Book review: Steve Jobs
People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Walter Isaacson’s insightful book1 on Steve Jobs is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs and hundreds of people who have known the man who stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination.

hw_w12_5The man who changed six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing.  But also the same man who drove those around him to fury and despair by his obnoxious and rough management style.

Jobs was adopted and he grew up with a sense that he was special, a trait that evolved in an unwillingness to accept authority.  He also refused to accept automatically received truths and was always willing to examine everything himself. He was at the same time Zen, which you see in his whole approach of stark, minimalist, aesthetic, intense focus.  But also ignoring distractions, his reality distortion field was a confounding mélange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will and eagerness to bend any fact to fit his purpose at hand.

He was a self-confessed control freak by nature... and if he knew for sure a course of action was right, he was unstoppable.  But if he had doubts, he sometimes withdrew, preferring not to think about things that did not perfectly suit him.2

When he was hiring people, he looked for passion and he had a way of motivating his team by looking at the bigger picture.  The result was that they came to share his passion for making a great product and not just a profitable one.

Jobs was always pursuing perfection and he often pushed his colleagues telling them their prototypes were rubbish, which they learned to interpret as: ‘Tell me why this is the best way to do it?’; which resulted in ways to perform even better the function that Jobs had criticized.

There are plenty of gems in the book, which help us understand the real Steve Jobs:
  • He had also a very good feeling in empowering by naïveté.  Atkinson said: ‘Because I didn’t know it couldn’t be done, I was enabled to do it.’3 Jobs was attracted to Walt Disney’s saying: ‘It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.’4
  • His original Mac-team taught him that A-plus players like to work together and do not like it if you tolerate B work. Unlike other product developers he did not believe that the customer was always right.
  • One of his management philosophies was that it is crucial, every now and then, to roll the dice and ‘bet the company’ on some new ideas and technology.5
  • One of Job’s great strengths was knowing how to focus. ‘Deciding what NOT to do is as important as deciding what to do,’ he said. ‘That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.’6
  • He would also claim that: ‘People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.’7

Despite being a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings.  ‘There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,’ he said. ‘That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.  You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow’, and soon you’ll be cooking up all sorts of ideas.’8 This concept would become the blueprint of the new Apple Headquarters he built.

In short, Jobs was creative and a visionary, but he also proved that he could run a company. His management mantra was ‘FOCUS’.9
He will be remembered for a lot of things, his products, his companies, his June 2005 Stanford opening address … but we would like to remember him as the man, who reminded us in his ‘Think Different’ ad that people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Overall this is an interesting book with lessons about innovation, character, leadership and values. Worth reading.

  • 1. ISAACSON, Walter; Steve Jobs, Little Brown, London, 2011, 630 pgs.
  • 2. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 315
  • 3. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 100
  • 4. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 284
  • 5. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 234
  • 6. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 336
  • 7. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 337
  • 8. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 431
  • 9. ISAACSON, Walter, Steve Jobs, p. 359