Thursday, January 19, 2012

Steve Jobs

I’m probably a bit late on Walter Isaacson’s biography on the late Steve Jobs. The book has been reviewed to death, the more exciting moments of the book have been discussed in the media, and I’ve seen many people in public carrying and reading the book. Shortly after my injury in November, I was given the book as a gift and I recently just started it. With all of that being said, I looked forward to starting the book and was happy when I was finally able to start it. I wondered if a 600 page book on one of the most fascinating of entrepreneurs in American business. When it comes to Apple products, I’m a huge fan. In 2005 when I moved to California, one of the first things I had to do was purchase a new computer; I decided to take a look at Apple products. I was tired of dealing with Microsoft Windows issues, I was tired of dealing with software that wasn’t user friendly, and I decided that it was time to consider Apple. The first time I got to play around with an iMac in the Apple store I was sold on Apple’s technology.

Anyone who is a fan of Apple knows all about Steve Jobs. The company’s rise and fall after Steve Jobs was forced out and then its rise again when Steve Jobs came back made the American public wonder how Steve Jobs operated, and how he managed to pull this off. The book goes all the way back to his childhood; his adoptive parents had made a pact with his birth mother that they would make sure he went to college. His father as a mechanic taught him a lot, including that the components in anything that aren’t seen and covered are just as important that taught him a lesson on quality. He was an engineer from an early age; he managed to create technology gadgets that annoyed his parents and won him friends. Life events when he was an adult such as taking LSD, discovering various vegetarian diets, practicing Zen Buddhism, befriending Steve Wozniak, and attending Reed College led to him becoming the person that he was. His personality was far from perfect and he was known to be a bit on the cruel or manipulating side, but he was still a brilliant engineer despite dropping out of college.

The story of Apple’s creation is quite fascinating, especially when the handlers were hiring handlers to deal with Steve Jobs and his personality. The creation of Apple’s first products such as the Apple II, the Lisa, and the Macintosh all have stories of conflict. Steve Jobs’ manipulation and cruel personality were a daily obstacle. Putting Steve Jobs solely on the Macintosh program was chaotic, but it led to one of the most innovative and successful products that became part of American consumer culture--as well as a very colorful ad campaign that Steve Jobs was also part of. The connection between Microsoft and Bill Gates with Apple at the time led to a very strange business relationship. Bill Gates an Steve Jobs were both highly eccentric, had different ideas about what they were creating, and both of them had their insulting comments to each other. The people who have been around Steve Jobs in their careers both past and present all discuss his “this is shit!” comments when they presented him with their ideas. They also discuss how there’s a code in dealing with Steve Jobs and what each of his insulting comments mean.

The failures of Steve Jobs after Apple with the “Next” system he created, his involvement with Pixar, and his failed relationships with his colleagues and girlfriends provided learning experiences in business and relationships. When he returned to Apple, it seemed like he wasn’t much different, but he had an idea of what he wanted to do and where he wanted the company to go. He pointed out Apple’s failures in creating innovative products, he addressed the lack of quality for the sake of creating profits, and he wanted to get people who were “A players” instead of having a bunch of “B players.” It’s well documented that he laid off people, made insulting comments at board meetings—such as telling all of the engineers that their products suck. One of my favorite parts of the story of his return is when he was given a tour of all of Apple’s existing products before his return; anyone who remembers that period knows that they had several models of the same system and that they were confusing to consumers. His response was asking “Which one do I tell my friends to buy?” to which he wasn’t able to get a response. He simplified the product line, he took a look at where the company needed to go, and Apple’s failure before he came back was a prime example of what happens when successful companies forget their roots and focus more on profits.

In the world of business books, I think that this is one that corporate executives could learn from. I also think that the key word that is used many times in the book is “innovation.” While Steve Jobs wasn’t an angelic figure with a rosy personality, he knew how to create and sell products. At the same time there were positive results for the company due to his personality. Any fan of Apple or technology products has probably already read and loved this book. Walter Isaacson being the one to pen the only authorized biography on Steve Jobs proves Isaacson is a very detailed writer when it comes to research and attaining facts. Isaacson’s biographies on Albert Einstein, Ben Franklin, and Henry Kissinger are all notable biographies, but this one is going to be his masterpiece throughout his entire writing career.

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