Well I finished the Steve Jobs biography. At first it seemed rather daunting until I realized the last 100 pages or so are an index and notes and whatnot, and then I noticed the font is rather large and spaced out a bit more than the normal dime store crime novels I usually read. Managed to read the whole thing (on my iPad) in under a week.
A few takeaways from the book, for those considering reading it.
1) It’s a good history of Apple as much as it is a biography of Steve Jobs. If you are someone who knows the basic story, much of the book will be rather like re-reading a copy of Forbes or something, with an occasionally paragraph or two thrown in about some of the inner conversations that were going on during that time. I was actually hoping that there would be more of his personal recollections (i.e. thoughts) about how certain things went down. Many of his conversations with the author seemed almost for ‘show’–i.e. he knew he was being recorded.
2) Steve Jobs was a bit of a jerk, to say the least. In fact, I kind of wondered if he had a bipolar disorder or something. Some of what he was doing was beyond just ‘getting his way’ or ‘pushing the envelope’ but somewhat more severe. The book is filled to the brim with examples of fights, but there is one rather telling moment toward the end in which the author points out:
“The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose….”
I think my biggest fear is that people are going to take as a lesson they should ‘act like Steve Jobs’ and be a jerk and a yeller and a fighter, rather than consider they should ‘think like Steve Jobs’, and look at different approaches and focus, like a laser, on the things that make a difference. I can see half-assed attempts, primarily by assholes already, to justify their pathetic office behavior as “it’s what Steve would do” but they haven’t an ounce of the talent or vision for what he was fighting to develop. God forbid I end up working for a yeller without conviction. I think my laughing in his face is just going to make him even angrier.
3) Apple is very strong now. I think about some of the crappy goalkeepers I’ve seen playing in soccer who have had their star rise by the fact they are surrounded by a good defense. It’s easy to stop 10 shots a year when those are the only 10 you face. Apple has a very strong team in place. They don’t have any crappy goalkeeper. They don’t need a goalkeeper-the rest of the team is strong enough. They’ve basically be working through all the iterations of all the problems and successes Apple has had over the last decade. Product inventory management, supply chain production issues, design and vision–these are things that are being pushed by the various heads of Apple from the ground up rather than from the top down. As a fan it’s good to see that they will have some leaders in place for the next few years to keep up the process of making great machines.
4) Steve Jobs’ family was something I knew very little about. While I knew the story of how he met his wife, and that he had a previous daughter, and probably could have mentioned he had three other children, I hadn’t the foggiest as to their names, interests, goals, etc. I had never seen a wedding photo of Steve Jobs nor photos of his kids. For such a public face he really did do a great deal to shield his family from the spotlight. While I was reading the book I finally said “ok, just where the heck does he live in Palo Alto” and took a look at the google maps view, only to discover I had been in that neighborhood a half dozen times myself, even favoring a Chinese restaurant nearby on more than one visit. Guess I just never pursued an interest in his personal life and he never held out his family that publicly.
So, is it worth it? Yea, probably. You’ve heard most of the juicy bits. There are other smaller stories inside which also are interesting. I personally found the description of Johnny Ive and Steve Jobs looking at a knife kind of interesting. Both thought, at first glance, that it was wonderfully designed, but then they both noticed a small hint of glue that connected the blade to the handle and quickly put down the knife, upset that the manufacturer had taken the easy way out. They also pointed out the influence of Steve Jobs father, who noted that a fine carpenter would never put a piece of plywood on the back of some furniture just because no one would see it. Lessons like these are why the insides of a Mac are almost as beautifully laid out as the outside casings.