By Walter Isaacson
*A Book Review*
by Michael C. Gray
© 2012 by Michael C. Gray
Steve Jobs was one of those who changed humanity through the various contributions that he initiated. His early business partner, Steve Wozniak, created the Apple II, the basis for the personal computer industry, but Steve Jobs made it commercially feasible. Steve Wozniak would have given the personal computer technology away. Steve Jobs created a business around it.
Trailblazing developments that Steve Jobs spearheaded included Apple Computer (company), Macintosh computer, Next computer, iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple Stores, and Pixar animated movies. In the process, Steve established an emotional connection with his admirers that was expressed with memorials and demonstrations at Apple Stores after his death. Barbara Walters named Steve Jobs as the Most Fascinating Person of 2011 – the first deceased person so honored.
Some individuals who made world-changing contributions of his stature that come to mind are Henry Ford with the mass-produced automobile, Thomas Edison with the electric light, phonograph, and motion pictures, the Wright brothers with the airplane, Walt Disney with family entertainment, and Nikola Tesla (distributed by Westinghouse) with alternating current.
Steve asked Walter Isaacson, former chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine, to write his biography. When the book was released shortly after Steve's death, it became an instant best seller.
What becomes apparent is that Jobs fits the profile exhibited by Gene Landrum Ph.D. in Profiles of Power & Success. Magnification of accomplishment is accompanied by magnification of human foibles, or what some may view as madness. (Some politely call it eccentricity.)
The goal of Apple Computer has been to develop insanely great products. It has done so with what could be viewed as an insanely great leader. As we have seen in the past, (Walt Disney, General Electric, Hewlett Packard) Apple Computer will and must change. Steve took steps, including creating Apple University, to preserve its innovative culture. Time will tell whether the culture of continuous innovation creating insanely great technological consumer products, survives long after Steve's death.
When asked about Apple's market research, Steve explained that asking customers what they wanted didn't make sense because the products didn't exist yet, so customers didn't know yet. He had a great intuitive sense of what people would want in a great product.
Apple Computer has not been a calm, rational place to work. It is a company of great passion and emotion. Steve was famous for his tirades. There were tears shed in many meetings. The best way to earn Steve's respect was to stand your ground and yell back. Steve's reactions to ideas and prototypes were they were brilliant or crap. What he condemned as crap this week may be put forth as his idea and brilliant in another week or two. Many felt he was what would politely be called a jerk. (He freely admitted it.)
As with many great men, Steve's greatest strength was his greatest weakness. It was known as his "reality distortion field." Steve believed that ordinary human rules and limitations didn't apply to him. He wouldn't accept the assertion, "It can't be done." When impossibility isn't accepted for innovations, it often dissolves. Steve tried to apply the reality distortion field to his pancreatic cancer. It was actually detected early and was very treatable. Steve tried to handle it with his diet and alternative therapy. The cancer spread and became incurable, leading to his death.
Steve's "magnificent obsession" was design. When he was growing up, his adopted father gave him an appreciation of elegant design for the masses in Eichler homes and automobiles. That is why he demanded the control of closed systems and wouldn't license Apple's operating systems and other software. He wanted to assure customers would have an extraordinary experience with an extraordinary product that would perform as simply and reliably as any appliance. He brought technological solutions to the masses. Steve even hated on-off switches. The device should "know" when it was needed and "wake up."
These distinctive products and constant innovation and reinvention have supported premium pricing, resulting in Apple Computer now being one of the most profitable and highly-valued businesses in the world, when many other technology companies founded during the 1970s no longer exist or are struggling.
High achievers like Steve Jobs usually don't live "balanced" lives. They are workaholics who are consumed with their businesses and their interests. As a result, their families (and relationships) are neglected. Steve's family members experienced that frustration. The picture that Isaacson paints is of a devoted and supportive, but frustrated, family.
I don't agree with or admire all of Steve's beliefs. When he had the opportunity to be a guest lecturer to college classes, Steve would routinely ask the students if they were still virgins and used LSD. He carried the hippie culture of the 1960s with him throughout his life and felt young people weren't rebellious enough to be true innovators.
I identify with Steve's life because we are close to the same age and grew up in the same community, the west side of Santa Clara County (now Silicon Valley) in California. As teenagers, Steve and his friends performed for children in character costumes at Westgate Shopping Center, where kids in my neighborhood used to hang out. The music he enjoyed by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez was the music of my generation. I was a witness of the personal computer revolution that he and Steve Wozniak initiated.
We are the beneficiaries of insanely great people like Steve Jobs. We can enjoy personal computing power, instant communication around the globe, access to a huge library of information, and instant access to a portable world of entertainment.
Steve Jobs's story is worthwhile to read and study. It is a big part of the story of the technological revolution of the end of the 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st Century.
Buy it on Amazon: Steve Jobs.
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