Review of "iWoz" by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith

iWoz is the sort of book I would have loved ten years ago, and indeed it’s the sort of material that makes for a great radio interview. If written in 1995, it would have been one of my favorite books of all time. As it is, Stephan Wozniak’s autobiography is a fine partial history of the era that saw the rise of the personal computer. It belongs in the same class as High Noon (about Sun Microsystems) and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs (about the Next-Apple transition). A step below true classics like Fire in the Valley, iWoz is quite good.


How He Founded Apple, Invented the Personal Computer, and Had Fun Doing it (, And Afterwards)

iWoz is broken into several large parts. The first section focuses mostly on Wozniak’s electric-logic experience, from earlier science fair experiments to an arpanet terminal that would eventually morph into the Apple I. These include early pranks and feature elements of obsession, sacrifices, humility, and geography that I would find as the basis of creativity in my series on Coming Anarchy. Woz’s systematic exploration of electronic circuitry would finally come together in the Apple II, a product he is quite proud of and truly one of the grandest achievements of the 1980s.

A second, gloomer half documents Steve’s inability to horizontally apply these skills to other aspects of his life. Two marriages fail and after the second he writes painfully of losing his house. Likewise, with grace and modesty Wozniak documents betrayals by Steve Jobs and poor treatment to the news media. Similarly, Wozniak documents the failures of his US Concerts to be either what he intended or profitable, and likewise his shortlived CL9 start-up firm.

In an earlier review of Robert Weisberg’s Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius, I criticized that author for his differentiating “horizontal” and “analogical” thinking. While Weisberg’s book retains many problems, this distinction is not one of them. While analogical thinking is the root of all creativity, horizontal thinking is worthless — expertise does not “translate” from one domain to another unless analogies help bridge those domains.

So all in all, iWoz is a very enjoyable book. It’s a fun guided tour of the early days of the Personal Computer, and has some valuable things to say along the way about the nature of creativity.

2 thoughts on “Review of "iWoz" by Steve Wozniak and Gina Smith”

  1. Dan,

    Lines like:

    “While analogical thinking is the root of all creativity, horizontal thinking is worthless — expertise does not “translate” from one domain to another unless analogies help bridge those domains”

    are what what make me admire your work!

    Mike

  2. Mike,

    Thanks! 🙂 I was doubting whether or not to bold that line — with praise like that, I'm glad I did!

    Mark,

    iWoz helped clarify the issue for me. It wasn't until reading about Wozniak's pre- and post- Apple II adventures that the difference between horizontal and analogical thinking was laid out fo me. (Weisberg didn't seem to do the job!) But the orderly progression of his accomplishments leading up to that made it very clear how, even when he began a new project, he was able to apply what he learned and did before to it. However, after the money came in, his activities were scattershot — hosting a concert, doing a satellite uplink, teaching kids, etc. The sense of progress evaporated as he shifted from horizontal to analogical movement.

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