I had gifted this book to a brother who’s an Apple fanatic on his birthday a couple of years ago. He hasn’t read it yet but I managed to lay hands on a cheap Kindle edition and have finished reading it. And the feeling that engulfs me right now is indescribable. It’s a mix of so many emotions: vindication, longing, happiness, sorrow, and most importantly, understanding.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a purely unbiased biography of who could possibly be the most influential visionary the world has ever seen. Yes, at the time, he seemed to have been overhyped. He was worshipped like a God. But after reading Isaacson’s well-researched account of Jobs’ life, I think that maybe he was a God in his own ways. Yes, Steve Jobs asked Isaacson to pen his life down, providing all the research and matter required. But he also told him not to sugarcoat anything and to portray him as he was. Maybe that was what made him great.
People say that Steve Jobs got undue recognition for Apple and Steve Wozniak did not get any, even though he worked equally if not harder than Jobs. But if it was left to Wozniak, as Isaacson puts down, he would have given away his inventions for free and the world would have been none the wiser for it. It was Jobs who had a strong business perspective. He knew that what they were making was revolutionary. He knew what he wanted to make and put in front of people. Like he said, the people don’t know what they want until we put it out in front of them.
Steve Jobs was no doubt a visionary, a genius at figuring out what people might want. He was also of the school of thought that it was “crap” to be doing redundant things. He was rude, he was honest, and didn’t think twice before saying to someone’s face that he absolutely hated them or what they had done. “This is shit!” he’d say emphatically, anger dripping through his veins if he didn’t like something. But he could also be extremely appreciative and charming if he wanted to be. He could swing from one end to the other of the mood spectrum.
Another of his drawbacks, apart from his rude one-sided yelling matches, was that he could lift someone else’s idea and project it as his own. That would stump many, but they had learnt to deal with it. Of course, it seemed that it didn’t matter in the long run because it was his pushing and prodding and guidance that brought Apple to the forefront. Once you learn that it was from Apple that the whole revolution started, your respect increases multifold.
Steve Jobs was shunted out of his own company because of his many drawbacks. He went on to give the world NeXT, then to Pixar where he was at the helm when stories like Toy Story were made. But Apple soon realized that it was these very qualities of Jobs that had made them so successful. And he was soon back where he belonged.
Steve Jobs had a policy: think different. This made sure that he pushed for Apple to make amazing products while others turned out, as he said, “crap”. He was vocal in dissing anything that anyone else made. He was a true leader: he led Apple loyalists into hating other technology, which is unfair on many levels.
Unfairness comes from the point where if Jobs wanted to reach people, he should have made the phones more affordable, if he was indeed thinking of making the whole world a better place. But then again, loyalists will cry foul at this and say that quality will obviously cost more, or something like that. Isn’t that a little hypocritical and ironic? Nevertheless, there is no doubt as to the quality of Apple products. We just wish they were more affordable.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is a true account of one of the most hyped visionaries in the world. It puts down all these incidents and Jobs’ qualities with an unnervingly raw honesty that you don’t generally see in biographies. You think of Jobs as a total prick, but as the pages go by, you sort of start rooting for him because you see what happened to the company in his absence. His battle with cancer and his eventual passing filled me with a sorrow that I cannot explain. Maybe this is what he meant by connecting with people.
Maybe the process of his handling things was wrong, but it did bring out the best in Apple. He gave the world an integrated, tightly coupled system which might seem controlling, but it preserved loyalty, gave the users a seamless experience, and reduced the workload that the users had to do with fragmented systems.
Jobs’ thinking was depicted admirably in the 1997 ad that they came up with:
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
And that’s exactly what Steve Jobs was. A crazy one. A misfit. He had no regard for the rules. He had absolutely no respect for those who went with the flow. He loved to trod off the beaten path. That is why he became who he was.
Reading his biography has increased my respect for Steve Jobs and the folks at Apple. But it still rankles a little that normal people like me cannot actually go ahead and splurge on an Apple product. Are the folks at Apple listening?!
*Waits pointlessly for Apple prices to go down*
Picture Courtesy: simonandschuster.com!
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