Sunday, January 22, 2012
by Walter Isaacson
I am not sure exactly why I put "Steve Jobs" on my wish list of reading but I did. When I received my Nook at Christmas it became the first book I bought. Not the first I downloaded but the first one that wasn't free.
Walter Isaacson wasn't particularly receptive to Steve's pitch to write his biography in the beginning. He is well known for his biographies of Einstein, Kissinger, and Benjamin Franklin. Was Steve Jobs looking to be accepted in that group of men by approaching Isaacson, or was he simply looking for a biographer that could do his story honestly and with integrity? Isaacson gives Steve the final word ("and one more thing...") in the book which I think best answers the question. Steve's biography is an authorized, no holds barred book, and is a legacy to who he was. Isaacson agreed to write the biography and Steve's terms were that he was to interview everyone, friend or foe, and write the truth. Steve would have no control over content and even suggested Isaacson interview people he knew would only have unkind things to say about him. His only control over the book became the cover photo.
I found the story very intriguing from Steve's young life through his young death at age 56. The book starts off with a list of characters, the key players in the story, that encompasses several pages. I read through them not even considering committing them to memory. In the course of the book, the ones that became more memorable to me than others were the people of his personal life.
My perception of Steve is someone very narcissistic. He demanded complete control over everything and was not a man to use social niceties or even common courtesy to make his point. In business that may be one thing, but I was so astounded how anyone can bring it to their entire world. In deed many of his personal relationships were strained and/or estranged because of his manner. I highly respect the people who could work within the scope of his personality and make it work.
Much of the story centers around the Apple company, of course, since it is Steve's legacy and what he is known for. Like Steve, his company demands full control, which is why Apple products don't work with other products. I'm still a bit mystified that we have iTunes available to PCs after reading the book. In the end I am not sure whether to hate Apple or love Apple. One integrated product controlled from source to end user seems to make sense and definitely has become a superior product. But I am not sure how I feel about how some things came about. Although the products are indisputably good, is it good that there seems to be little or no competition in areas such as the iTunes store?
Although Steve refers to any other products as "shitty" and "crap," there are other products that can compete with Apple, although they are continually losing market share to Apple as Apple integrates all it's products in seeming perfect synchronization.
I don't feel I can adequately comment on Steve's personal business style (if you can call it that). But I am left to wonder, based on Apple's own history, if the company can continue to maintain such a complete control on product design and development. Through all phases I felt Steve had to constantly demand things done his way to his standards. Although there are others at Apple who appreciate that, I am not sure it's a culture that can be maintained without him. His way is great products before profit which is not the common way of thinking in our world. Can his genius be carried on without him?