In my recent pillaging of the public library, I couldn’t turn down the chance to read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. I had read many accounts of Steve Job’s life and work, at least up to about the time of the iMac. This biography went much further and much later in his life (it was published shortly after his death in 2011). It was an excellent book and Isaacson is an expert biographer. I couldn’t stop reading it and highly recommend it.
Here are the things that I learned:
- Jobs’ superpower was pushing for the best in design, simplicity, and beauty, by marrying technology to art. He knew this one thing, and developed that skill into a form of magic.
- His attention to detail, as evidenced by his super-polished presentations, was his second superpower. The return on investment seems limitless. Watch his 2005 Stanford commencement speech which may be one of the best ever.
- He was horrible to other people. He parked in handicapped spaces. He screwed over early Apple employees’ stock options. He drove without license plates. He was cruel and demeaning. He thought rules were for other people. He sounds like the guy Dennis Leary described in his hit song “Asshole.”
- He seemed to have little use for women. He surrounded himself with men at Apple and seemed to avoid all women but his wife, including brushing off his three daughters. Strange and probably misogynist.
- He lied his ass off. Asserting facts that weren’t true. Claiming ideas that weren’t his. Charming people he hated. Committing to things he had no intention of doing. That level of dishonesty is just disgusting to me.
- Rich folks, movers and shakers, are so few in number that they inevitably end up knowing each other. Steve Jobs ran with the who’s who of famous people: Bono, Bill Clinton, George Lucas, Joan Baez, Al Gore, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Bob Dylan, just to name a few.
- If Jobs just had some of the gentleness and humility of Steve Wozniak or Neil Gaiman, he could have been so much more successful. (Neil Gaiman also gave an amazing commencement speech which has been turned into its own illustrated book.)
- Why is Jony Ive not running Apple? He seems to be the spiritual son of Jobs’ melding of technology, design, art, and ease of use.
- Deep down, control freaks dislike and distrust others. Steve Jobs categorized people into A and B players, geniuses or idiots. It’s clear to me that, reading between Isaacson’s lines, Jobs had a low opinion of people, even the A players he regularly belittled. He was hardcore about the integration of hardware and software, but it was an excuse to impose his artistic sense on others. I don’t mind the beauty, the design, and the simplicity, Steve, but let me do what I want with my computing device, okay?
- I wouldn’t have worked for him and would probably have detested him if I knew him personally. I think Steve Jobs would argue that life is too short to put up with a boss like Steve Jobs. But, damn, the world is worse off without him.