Friday, December 16, 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve JobsSteve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of Steve Jobs is fascinating and bewildering. He was clearly not a nice person, to say the least. His first wife described him as "englightened yet cruel," two qualities I can't reconcile with one another.

At the same time, Jobs was integral into how every person uses technology today. His belief in the importance of perfection in design and his ruthless ambition might be unmatched in any person left living, and I honestly don't know if the world can do without him.

Because of changes in my own working life, I think I was reading this wanting to know what Steve Jobs could teach me. Is it possible to apply his concepts of belief in a superior product, collaboration, and territory without being an unpleasant human being?

I think Isaacson portrays his strengths and weaknesses in what seems to be a fair light, and I enjoyed the progression through this one man's amazing life. If Jobs isn't someone I would want to model myself after, at least I can develop a greater appreciation for what one person can accomplish in even a shortened lifetime.

The research is thorough but the writing gets a bit repetitive - that's what happens when a book rushes to print, I suppose. I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could. To Steve Job's story (and not this book itself), I give 5 stars.

Jobs on how one of his earlier trips to India changed his ways:
"If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there's room to hear more subtle things - that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present tense. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment.  You see so much more than you could see before. It's a discipline; you have to practice it."

An example of Jobs' many eccentricities and strange health practices:
"There was also the issue of his hygiene. He was still convinced, against all evidence, that his vegan diets meant that he didn't need to use a deodorant or take regular showers.  'We would have to literally put him out the door and tell him to go take a shower,' said Markkula. 'At meetings we had to look at his dirty feet.' Sometimes, to relieve stress, he would soak his feet in the toilet, a practice that was not as soothing for his colleagues."

A useful tidbit:
"There falls a shadow, as T.S. Eliot noted, between the conception and the creation. In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important."

From an engineer who left Apple:
"I thoroughly enjoy talking with him, and I admire his ideas, practical perspective, and energy. But I just don't feel that he provides the trusting supportive, relaxed environment that I need."

One of the many comments on his reality distortion:
"You realize that it can't be true, but somehow he makes it true."
"You did the impossible, because you didn't realize it was impossible."

On inspiring your workers:
"'I've learned over the years that when you have really good people you don't have to baby them,' Jobs later explained. 'By expecting them to do great things, you can get them to do great things.'"
"I've found people who can't wait to fall into line behind a good strategy, but there just hasn't been one."
"I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company."
"What are the ten things we should be doing next?" (and then cross out bottom 7)

"Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do... that's true for companies, and it's true for products."


  1. So many very successful people turn out to be not very nice. I think that degree of perfectionism and ambition requires too many sacrifices ....

  2. @Sam - I think you're right. There were plenty of people around Jobs who had good ideas and did well enough, and were probably happy. He had absolutely zero respect for them.


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