Review of “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

The outline of Steve Jobs’ life has been told so often there is not much to gain by regurgitating it. His hippie past, his co-founding of Apple and eventual ouster by John Sculley. His forays at Next and Pixar, which struggled before being sold to Apple to Disney, respectively. His triumphant return as CEO at Apple, his introduction of the iMac, iPod, and iPhones. His cancer, his death. His sour personality, and his focus on design.

More interesting to me are themes which are hinted at, but not explored in great depth. What he learned from his failures, and how his second time as CEO was radically different from his first. During early yearls at Apple, then Next and Pixar, Jobs was manipulated, unfocused, and eager to embrace technology. His last years at CEO, during which he took it from near bankruptcy to being the most valuable company in the world, Jobs was more manipulate, he was more focused, and was more skeptical of the advantages of technology.

During his early time at Apple, Steve Jobs displayed a lack of empathy and inability to build non-obvious support networks. His rivalry with John Sculley was not just bitter, but it was self-sabotaged. While Sculley took steps to prove himself to the Board of Directors and support internal stakeholders, Jobs felt free to alienate both. Likewise, while Sculley made extravegent shows of giving Jobs second, third, and fourth chances, Jobs insisted that Sculley be dismissed immediately. Sculley successfully manipulated the environment such that the Board insisted twice that he dismiss Jobs: imagine being in a position all important stakeholders are insisting on your approval to fire your rival!

Jobs was wiser after his return. He became a patron of the Marketing and Design departments, ensuring internal support for initiatives. He also chose a board that was generally supportive of him, removing Board Members like Eric Schmidt when they showed signs of independent thought. Just as Sculley had, decades earlier, maneuvers for the board to beg him to fire Steve, Jobs maneuvered for the board to beg him to return as CEO.

During his early time at Pixar, Jobs was unfocused. The company burned through a large amount of money attempting to break into medical imaging and other fields. The whole time (at least according to Walter Isaacson’s biography), Jobs’ passion at Pixar were its work in animation, both providing equipment to Disney and especially the films created by the artistic staff. Jobs would not make the same mistake at Apple: instead products were killed for the good of the company, and apple even dropped the “Computer” from its former name of “Apple Computer, Inc,” to emphasize it was primarily in the devise business.

During his early years at Apple and Next, Jobs demanded clean, fully automated, high-tech assembly lines. Now, as Mike Daisey states in his amazing one-man play, The Agony and Esctasy of Steve Jobs, we live in a world made by hand. You may have more phones in your household made by hand than your parents did at your age. Our handicraft world was made possible by Steve Jobs, recognizing his early failures by trusting machines against economic sense, and of course Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

There’s a ton more in the Steve Jobs biography to read. I strongly suggest you do. In spite of having earlier read Fire in the Valley, iWoz, iCon, and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, I more than doubled my knowledge about Apple and Jobs by reading this book. But the most interesting lessons may be the ones least explored.

I read Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, in the Kindle Edition.