Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

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It is probably the most anticipated biography that I have pre-ordered during March 2011. When the book was brought forward from March 2012 to Nov 2011, subsequently to today, there was a gut feeling in me that I know that something is about to change. The death of an icon entrepreneur and innovator, Steve Jobs was an unfortunate catalyst which brought this biography early to the bookshelves. Walter Issacson has written a fair and beautiful biography about Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple and brought out the legacy that the man has left behind. Here’s some of my thoughts about the book which I highly urge those who loved innovation and technology to read.

If you are a fan of Douglas Adams, the first thing you will notice that the whole biography of Steve Jobs is written in 42 chapters. The author started the book with an introduction to how the book came to be. In the whole book, Isaacson undertook the tough task to reconstruct the life of Steve Jobs through the lens of many people ranging from his family, his friends, his fans and his competitors and forty over interviews with the man himself who was dying of cancer. It examined the legacy of Steve Jobs and provided a glimpse on how he perceived the world. It sheds a lot of details behind the creation of various innovations that Apple has produced from the personal computer Apple II to the iPad. While I have read two other unofficial biographies of Steve Jobs, this biography has shed a lot of light on how Steve Jobs has made his manoeuvres to come back to the company which he co-founded.

Throughout the book, Walter Isaacson built an interesting contrast between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Despite their complex love-hate relationship, they both eventually came to the realization the different business models they each have on software were right in their own way. Probably, life is fair in such a way that if you truly believe what you are doing, you will probably show that your model dominate for a period of time, but a competing paradigm will eventually take over for a different time. Isaacson has built this contrast between both men very well as he traced the history of their rivalry from the 80s all the way to the present.

Probably, here are some interesting tidbits of the biography which I thought might be interesting for reflection:

  • The importance of building a great team and how the Apple pushed Steve Jobs back: The interesting back story in how his team convinced him to build a iTunes and iPod support for Windows was probably extraordinary. Despite how much he did not agree based on his own personal bias, he was able to make the decision to let it happen. Probably, in the whole book, Tim Cook has summarized elegantly, “I realized very early that if you didn’t voice your opinion, he would mow you down … He takes contrary positions to create more discussion, because it may lead to a better result. So if you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing, then you’ll never survive.”
  • The trials and tribulations of building a product: Probably the story on how the iPhone was built remained an interesting tale for all of us who have witnessed how it changed the mobile industry. The backdrop on how Steve Jobs betted on a touch screen design was probably something that it was easy to judge now on hindsight, but tough at that instant of time.
  • There’s just one more thing – Steve’s last word: In the last part of the book, Isaacson provided Steve Jobs the platform to summarize what his philosophy in life and why he was driven to do the things that he did. It might be an interesting reflection for us to think about some of the things we do in businesses and acknowledge that building one is difficult. Steve Jobs provided his final thoughts on why companies such as Microsoft and IBM failed to innovate based on the reasons that they relied more on sales to drive revenues rather than building great products.

Whatever it is, if you are passionate about building a product or business, this is probably one that you should read. Steve Jobs is not perfect but what made him different is that he has managed to engineer a comeback which not many people can in the face of their failures and built interesting products that have changed the world across three decades. That, in itself, is why we come to admire and mourn his passing.

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Bernard Leong

A Pragmatic Idealist

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2 thoughts on “Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson”

  1. well said.
    i’m observing that chalkboard square rolling ads. may be a little advice, add scrolling capability so that i don’t need to wait for the timer.

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