Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson

Published 2011


What is it about?

A biography of the Apple co-founder.

How long is it?

500+ pages.

Is it easy to read?

Yes, it is long, but it’s enthralling from start to finish, although it is easy to lose track of all the people in it.

How will it inspire me?

The book is a gripping insight into a man who was one of the chief architects of the modern world.     

When I was younger, I worked early mornings in the stockroom of a high street shop that was opposite an Apple store. I never could believe it when I used to see people camping outside in freezing weather waiting for it to open. How many other brands could boast such a following? Apple in this sense is an oddity, they inspire either cult-like devotion or complete scorn and derision from people. However, even if you don’t own one, you could still probably identify an iPad, iPhone and a Macbook. How many Dell, HP or Lenovo products could you name? These are the top three personal computer companies by market share, but they don’t really inspire anything. They are indistinguishable from each other and if all three were to merge you probably wouldn’t even notice. What is it then that made Apple so special?

Apple is or rather was personified by Steve Jobs, and the book shows how much of his personal philosophy went into the company. One of the first things you’re taught when studying business, is that a company first and foremost exists to maximise wealth for its shareholders. Jobs scorned this way of thinking, he hated the stagnant corporate attitudes that existed in the big tech firms, he had little interest in money and the only goal he set out with Apple was to change the world by making the best consumer products possible. Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, cites this as the reason why Apple were so successful, ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’ Jobs framed the company as revolutionaries, they were the ones who would make history, ‘think different’ and be remembered. He told one team that ‘it’s better to be a pirate than to join the navy.’ Just watch the original advert for the 1984 Mac. Apple had clear values and everything they did was consistent with these. As far as Jobs was concerned the other big tech companies were soulless, money grubbing and stagnant, not fit to lead the industry. Jobs pitted himself against them, and let everyone know this, therefore to buy an Apple product was an act of rebellion.

What comes across so much in the book is the iron will that Jobs had, its referred to as his ‘reality distortion field’, in which he was able to manifest his will by demanding only the best from his people and was ruthless in his criticism. He constantly has meetings with other top CEO’s in the latter half of the book, and openly scolds there cluelessness about their own industries. His rejection of market share and profit over what he called the Wayne Gretzky principle of ‘don’t go where the puck is, go where the puck is going’ meant that Apple remained industry innovators and this obsession to remain future oriented and manufacture products for it made them the company they are today. The sheer breadth of accomplishments he managed from personal computing, to changing the music and mobile phone industries, to helping establish Pixar just staggers, and by the end its just chapter after chapter of one incredible accomplishment after another. Although not a perfect man by any means, the legacy of Jobs is undeniable. Whether or not you like Apple, the story of the man behind it is genuinely inspiring.   

Choice lines:

-Atop the brochure McKenna put a maxim, often attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci, that would become the defining precept of Job’s design philosophy: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

-Very few other companies or corporate leaders-perhaps none- could have gotten away with the brilliant audacity of associating their brand with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, and the Dalai Lama. Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anti-corporate, creative, innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have- Porsche, Ferrari, Prius – because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.”

-[Jobs] “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.”

-[Jobs] “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

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