Posted On: April 24, 2012
April 24, 2012
Reading Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is a painful experience. As a longtime Apple lover you develop certain preconceptions. Reading stories of Jobs chewing out employees is nothing new, but it’s hard to read about – over and over. So Jobs was an asshole – I get it. But I think somehow Isaacson misses the point. How did Jobs create this mega-company? Sure being demanding can be useful, but ultimately – you’ve got to be able to inspire people and investors to follow you.
Much is made of Jobs absent father as a kind of excuse for his behaviour. Whatever Jobs might have lacked from a birth father – his actual father comes across as sweet, interesting and devoted character. There’s a story about Steve and his father building a fence. His father tells him that crafting the parts you don’t see is just as important as crafting the piece you do. Turn over your iPad and think about that one for a second. Jobs father was a tinker – forever fixing up old cars, discussing style, design and engineering with his son. I think there’s a lot of Job’s father in Apple.
One review of the Steve Jobs biography that received a lot of ink was Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker review. Basically Gladwell called Jobs more of a “Tinkerer,” than genius. There’s a lot of truth to that. Jobs may have co-opted a lot of ideas like the GUI graphical user interface or even the tablet computer – but he sure smoothed out the edges. Call it genius or tweaking or whatever – Jobs created products that people desired.
Jobs was obsessive. That resulted in a lot of bad behavior – but it also resulted in a company that tried to make the Apple experience smooth from end to end. Turn on your new MAC and it works. Even going into an Apple store is a pleasant experience. New CEO Tim Cook is obsessive about on-time deliver. Their products, their systems work. Think about the Blackberry Playbook disaster in comparison. But more than that – Apple products open up new possibilities. Who would have imagined using their phone as a camera, or a ruler, a Scrabble board or a GPS device. Apple’s expanded the idea of what a device can do.
Ultimately, I think key to Job’s genius is that he didn’t see hardware and software as distinct entities. For most of us a computer is a computer – if the software doesn’t work – well the computer doesn’t work. Seems like an obvious idea – but I don’t think the industry thought that way. Bill Gates and Microsoft developed software. Dell built computers. Jobs looked at computing as a whole: hardware, software and by extension the whole support sphere. Think about an iPod: it’s software, hardware & music store. An apple computer is certainly more a piece of hardware – it connects you to a networked ecosystem. I’m guessing that very shortly we won’t even think of computers as computers – they’ll simply be your desktop, or your dashboard, your TV, whatever. That kind of holistic thinking comes in large part from Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs might have been a tyrant – but maybe that’s what it took to fight against an established way of thinking. When Jobs returned to Apple, they launched the Think Different Ad campaign. Jobs thought differently. Often individuals who think differently get squashed. Steve survived and prevailed. Guessing it takes a little bit of psychic armour plating to win the battles he faced.
Is that an excuse for bad behaviour? Probably. But I sense that there’s a part of Steve Jobs that Isaacson may have missed. The Aesthete. The philosopher. The dreamer. The do’er.
Here are a few moments – ways that I’d prefer to think of Steve Jobs.
This version of the Think Different ad was narrated by Steve Jobs, was never released. This might be Job’s manifesto:
Here’s a video that garnered a lot of play after Steve Jobs died – his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address. Here is Steve the philosopher:
The Long and Winding Road
Sadly the Steve Jobs biography ends with Jobs dissing Bill Gates. I’m guessing the feelings might have been a little more complicated. Jobs might have been a little more like John Lennon to Gates Paul McCartney:
Maestro of the Future
And in the end – Jobs was amazingly driven. Even after a liver transplant – he was back where he wanted to be – centre stage, ready to unveil the future:
My last words: Thank you Steve.
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