I read this book when it was released in 2011. It’s a 500+ page biography but it’s an amazing story. I skimmed through it recently to remind myself of the extremely valuable lessons from Steve Jobs’ life. It was my book of the year in 2011 and it remains one of my favorite books to date.
Perhaps the funniest passage in Walter Isaacson’s monumental book about Steve Jobs comes three quarters of the way through. It is 2009 and Jobs is recovering from a liver transplant and pneumonia. At one point the pulmonologist tries to put a mask over his face when he is deeply sedated. Jobs rips it off and mumbles that he hates the design and refuses to wear it. Though barely able to speak, he orders them to bring five different options for the mask so that he can pick a design he likes. Even in the depths of his hallucinations, Jobs was a control-freak and a rude sod to boot. Imagine what he was like in the pink of health. As it happens, you don’t need to: every discoverable fact about how Jobs, ahem, coaxed excellence from his co-workers is here.
As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs was not a visionary or even a particularly talented electronic engineer. But he was a businessman of astonishing flair and focus, a marketing genius, and when he was getting it right, which was not always, had an intuitive sense of what the customer would want before the customer had any idea.
He was obsessed with the products, rather than with the money: happily, as he discovered, if you get the products right, the money will come.
He cheated his friends out of money. He cut old colleagues out of share options. He fired people on the spot with peremptoriness. He bullied waiters, insulted business contacts and humiliated interviewees for jobs. He lied his pants off whenever it suited him – “reality distortion field” is Isaacson’s preferred phrase. Like many bullies, he was also a cry-baby. Whenever he was prevented from being made “Man of the Year” by Time magazine when he was 27, for instance, he burst into tears.
Apart from being a sort-of-genius, Jobs was a truly weird man. As a young man, he was once put on the night-shift so co-workers wouldn’t have to endure his BS. (Jobs was convinced his vegan diet meant he didn’t need to wear deodorant or shower more than once a week.)
Nowadays we are taught that being nice is the way to get on. Steve Jobs is a fine counter-example. In 2008, when Fortune magazine was on the point of running a damaging article about him, Jobs summoned their managing editor to Cupertino to demand he spike the piece: “He leaned into Serwer’s face and asked, ‘So, you’ve uncovered the fact that I’m an asshole. Why is that news?'”
9/10 – Steve Jobs was one of the modern day legends and entrepreneur of our times. Every entrepreneur should read this book.
Favourite quotes from the book:
– “One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”
– “If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently. (Steve Jobs)”
– “the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
– “People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”
– “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery. (Steve Jobs)”
– “Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
– “If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things – that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”
– “On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”
– “Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Out job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”