Monday, March 5, 2012

Steve Jobs

I started this book about a month and a half ago, and finally finished it yesterday. Normally I read faster than that, but I just couldn't find the time to read. I say that because the slow going was my fault not the fault of the author.

I don't read a lot of biographies as most peoples' lives aren't that interesting for their entire lifetime, but those slow times do also shape who they are so need to be included in a bio.

Since Steve Jobs died shortly after the book was published there were a lot of media reports and mini bios in the press, but I still didn't really know much about him before I started. Just that he was known to be secretive about his business and his personal life. I can't say I blame him for either. If you're trying to make the next great product, you don't want it leaked out and have some other company steal it and reap the rewards. As far as his personal life, that should be allowed to stay private. I think in many cases, people today are so enamored of celebrity and the wealthy, and feel they have a right to know things about people that really are none of their business. Having said that, hiding his health problems as the head of a publicly traded company may not have been ethical (they do mention in the book that the Apple board did at one point consult a legal team to learn how much they needed to disclose.)

All in all, what I took away from the book was yes, he could be a jerk - people who had been subjected to his rants may use stronger language - but he was a perfectionist and expected perfection of those around him. In many cases his rants motivated people to work harder and prove that they were better than he had made them feel.

Walter Isaacson didn't seem to sugar coat anything and I have to admit it was interesting to read about some of his earlier drug experimentation. While he was more of an artistic person than your typical CEO, I had always thought of him as your typical tech geek, not a Dylan loving, drug using, vegan.  I realize that is a very narrow picture of him, but each one of those traits did influence a lot of who he became.

While his name is listed on over a hundred patents, I still don't know if you can really say he invented anything. He came up with the big vision and expected clean and innovative designs for Apple's products but it was his team of engineers and design people who created the products he envisioned.

There is no doubt he was brilliant when it came to marketing. Every Apple conference and announcement has caused a ton of speculation as to what the new product will be. In most cases, the product they release is better than anyone outside the company had predicted. One thing he was none for saying was that focus groups were pointless because the public doesn't know what they want until we give it to them.

It'll be interesting to see how the company continues without its fearless leader. Even when he was on medical leave before he died he still had a hand in some of the projects that were going on.

I have to say I love my iPod (even if it's really old and no longer holds a charge so has to be docked at all times). I converted to the iPhone last year and love it too. I am looking forward to the day my PC dies so we can finally replace it with a Mac. Yes, Apple's products may cost a little more, but I'll pay extra for something intuitive that my kids can easily use that also looks good.

One little personal story too. Last night my 7 year old daughter was working on an article for the school newspaper about Martin Luther King Jr Day. She asked me why people had cried when they heard his speech and I asked if she had ever heard it. When she said no I went to our laptop to find it on YouTube. It was taking forever to load, so she said, why can't we just watch it on the iPad? Done. Much faster. I told her Steve Jobs was smiling.

Now on to my next book, which I'm sure will be much a quicker read - Magic Tree House: Abe Lincoln at Last!.  My daughter loves the Magic Tree House books and has read all of them.  I asked her which one she thought I should read and she picked this one.

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