sunnuntai 25. maaliskuuta 2012

Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs

I just finished reading Walter Isaacson's 600 pages long book Steve Jobs, the biography of Steve Jobs (February 24, 1955 – October 5, 2011). This is my attempt at summarizing the parts of the book that I found the most interesting.

According to the book, in Jobs's mind everything -- including ideas, people and products -- was either the best or utter crap. Not many shades of grey there. He also voiced his opinions loudly and shamelessly in front of other people. At some point some of his colleagues and employees understood that when Jobs called their idea/concept/product/model total bullshit, he actually meant "Please explain to me why this is absolutely the best way of doing this". If you then managed to do that, Jobs would respect you. He might not necessarily admit it at first, but he would come back in a few days and then present you your idea as his own.

This has to do with another concept that was discussed a lot in the book: Jobs's ability to distort the reality. Jobs could easily hurt people, but he was just as skilled in flattering them or persuading them to do something -- even if that something was thought to be impossible. When Jobs told his team that they could do something, they believed him and actually pulled it through. For example, in January 1984, when there was a week left before the deadline for the software of the new Macintosh, the engineers concluded that they just couldn't do it: they needed two more weeks to finish it. Jobs explained to them that they were a great team and had been working on the project for months so a couple of extra weeks would not make a difference and the original deadline would stay. So the team bought a huge bag of coffee beans, pulled a few all-nighters and actually shipped the product in time.

Jobs's skill of persuading almost anyone of almost anything was the product of a couple of factors. First, Jobs could also deceive himself to believe in anything he decided was the truth. Some would say he was lying, but it seems he truly and fully believed in whatever he had decided was the reality. He could effortlessly ignore any fact he didn't like (such as the birth of his first daughter Lisa, for the first couple of years), or he could just twist those facts to suit his own mind. Second, Jobs could direct his attention sharply to anyone or anything, ignoring anything else around. He could focus on something "like a laser beam". He had even learned to stare at people without blinking.

Jobs was a special kind of a person who could as easily focus on the big picture as the smallest details. He could spend a morning in a board meeting and then in the afternoon give his unfiltered opinions on the coating or curvature of the screw heads in their newest physical product. He was passionate about the details of the products of his companies and worked closely with the designers. He actually forced everyone in his companies to work closely together: in other organizations, such as Sony, different divisions practically competed with each other. That is one reason why Sony failed to create a solution that would integrate an online music store with an MP3 player: they were afraid that the online store would eat a share of their traditional CD sales. Jobs managed to do this with the iPod and iTunes and was never afraid to have one product cannibalize another's market: "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will".

Jobs considered himself and Apple as being in the intersection of humanities and sciences, or creativity and technology. He was a good engineer but Steve Wozniak, with whom he founded Apple in 1976, was the best one. Whenever Wozniak came up with a new invention, Jobs found a way to make money with it, so they completed each other in that sense. Wozniak was more of a hacker and was happy when soldering parts on a circuit board, but Jobs always insisted that everything should be intuitive and easy to use for an average person.

During his youth Jobs tried LSD, marijuana and other drugs. He later said that taking LSD was one of the most important things in his life as that -- and his Zen studies -- made him "more enlightened". He was rebellious and lived with fruit and vegetable diets, and also traveled to India to find his guru. He liked to walk barefoot and also thought that because of his vegetarian diet he wouldn't need to shower or use deodorant, which wasn't too nice for the people around him. Later on when he got the cancer in the 2000s he still tried to distort reality into overcoming the cancer with various fruit-based diets only, which delayed the proper medical care for several months and actually worsened his condition badly.

Finally, here's Jobs's speech to the graduates of the Stanford University in 2005. All the themes of the speech and the speech itself are also discussed in the book, but I figured I'd rather not repeat them and just let Steve speak for himself:

2 kommenttia:

  1. Good summary for the book. I also read it a while ago.. I especially liked the whole "intersection of humanities and sciences" - philosophy :)

    Also: Douglas Adams references FTW ;)