In the past week, the tech blogosphere and other media outlets have picked at this book like vultures. Jobs granted noted author/biographer Walter Isaacson intimate access to his life, family and then some, going so far as to reveal his final acts and product ideas before his death. Ripping morsels from a tome like this while Apple is in its prime is petty; a cruel version of ‘Snape Kills Dumbledore’ that does little justice to who Steve Jobs was. While I never fell in love with Apple or its end-to-end ecosystem, it’s intriguing to see how ruthless Jobs had to be to exact his specific vision and the enthralling story of how he got there.
As a very public persona at the helm of some of the biggest definities or disruptions of the tech industry, there are portions of Jobs’ story that will come off as very familiar. One in particular is the creation of Apple through his 1985 ouster, something that made me appreciate the accuracy of TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley (starring Noah Wyle as Jobs) even more. Even to his last days, Steve was known as a brusque, confrontational, and brutally honest tyrant, something that outsiders (and even former employees) characterize as some terrible trait that hindered the company’s progress. I snorted with laughter several times at how ridiculously cruel he would be to people he had considered friends. He would call your product shit without batting an eye, often ruining his relationships with partners and other managers in the process. The book spends a lot of time going over this because it was his exacting, honest nature that made Apple successful. Those who fought Steve were rewarded, but he would never soften his approach, so one always had to be on guard or they would be regarded as B or C players when he only wanted A players on board.
Steve’s ‘reality distortion field’ was known from the very beginning. He would flat out lie with such a convincing stare that you’d believe it and in a weird way, it would motivate you. It doesn’t sound like it could work, but it forced his teams over the years to perform near-impossible tasks. Upon reluctantly taking the role of interim CEO (iCEO, as he called it) in 1997, he told the board of directors that brought him back into Apple to resign immediately. And they did. This allowed him to rebuild the board to suit him and form the new Apple empire as he saw fit – an action so sly that only Palpatine could’ve done better. It was a combination of these things that caused his inevitable ouster from the company he co-founded in the 80s, but it later helped him build Pixar and deal with Disney in the 90s and in the 00s, bring us the magical i-devices that have sold millions around the world and created or remolded entire slabs of consumer electronics.
Reading about him so thoroughly, from his birth and adoption, to the formation his various personality quirks, I teared up as a weak and very much in pain Steve tried to fool Siri, a key feature on the iPhone 4S. For his part, Isaacson works incredibly hard to build a narrative between the people who came in and out of his life. I only stopped turning pages when my free time was at an end. Whether you subscribe to what he accomplished or not, there aren’t many lives like the one Steve lead.