Steve Jobs: Amazing Innovator or Big Jerk?

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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Only recently did I become a convert to the World of Apple.  But, just like Steve Jobs had hoped for when he created the iPod, I’ve become end-to-end integrated.  My Apple experience goes from small (iPhone) to medium (iPad) to large (MacBook Air).  I’m just still learning about the incredible functionality of all of my devices, but the question is what attracted me to the Apple products at first.  And, the answer is, their ‘sexiness’. I was lucky enough to receive a copy of  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  The book has been out for a while, but it took me a bit to read it.  Time got away from me, while I attempt to write my own novel for NaNoWriMo.  However, when I wasn’t reading, I was thinking. I’m fascinated by the man who was Steve Jobs now.  Walter Isaacson has presented an authentic and realistic portrayal of the man behind some of Apple’s greatest innovations. I’m new to biography (or really non-fiction readying). Last year, Starbucks provided me with Howard Schultz’s Onward.  I was wondering if I would see any parallels between these two great innovators.  At first, I didn’t. But, then, when Jobs started to grow up, I did. There were some things that struck me deeply about the book.  First, I’ll talk about Walter Isaacson.  He put a lot of work and research into this book.  At first, he wasn’t even sure that he wanted to write it.  Then, he was drawn into Steve’s web, and he became fascinated with the nascence of the beast Steve created.  This isn’t a book as much as a tome, a journey, a testament.  You could see how he fell in love with Steve Jobs during the journey of writing.  And, it was true love.  He saw Steve’s badness along with his goodness. His failings along with his great successesses.  His weaknesses along with his strengths.  You can also see that the book was rushed at the end.  There were some problems with tense and tone within;  I guess as a fiction reader I noticed that there was some editing that was undone.  But, once I got over that and immersed myself in the meat of the book, the reason for the book, those small failings disappeared. Steve Jobs.  What a brat. What a big baby. In the dictionary, next to narcissist, you can find Steve’s picture.  But, while there were haters along the way, for some reason, he was totally endearing and well loved amid his total jerkiness. Folks just seemed to put up with his (we’ll call them) quirks. Jobs’s most telling personality feature was his excessive ‘optimism’ or what those around him called his:  ‘Reality Distortion Field’.  Others call it the Power of Attraction (remember that book and video, The Secret?)  Basically, Steve believed that if you say it, it will come, it will happen, it will come true. And, usually it did.  Steve could make things happen.  He could make people accomplish greatness when they didn’t even believe it themselves. Some other things that struck me about Steve Jobs: He was a black or white thinker.  To him, things were incredible, or they were pieces of crap (or shit) He truly was passionate.  He didn’t believe in doing things halfway or half assed. If you couldn’t do it right, don’t do it at all. He set Apple apart because he wasn’t an engineer. He was a product man and a marketer. He could see the romance in perfection, and wanted to share that with others. He was very strange. He was almost like an accidental billionaire, in that he loved his wealth, not for what it could buy him, but for what it demonstrated.  To him, the fact that he accumulated great wealth creating amazing and innovative products that amazing and improved people’s lives, well that was the best payoff. He had a conscience, but hid it well. He was sensitive, but his genius mad him unable to act sensitively. He was ruthless.  You didn’t want to get on his bad side. But, at the same time, he had a naive sense of loyalty, and was genuinely wounded when it was betrayed. Usually, I don’t do this, but some of my favourite quotes from the book: About rejoining Apple while still CEO at Pixar:

‘…I was stunned.  It was then I realized that I do give a shit about Apple – I started it and it is a good thing to have in the world.  This was when I decided to go back on a temporary basis to help them hire a CEO’. (p. 315)

On driving Wendell Weeks, CEO of Corning Glass to tool up his factory and produce enough Gorilla Glass for the iPhone launch:

“‘Don’t be afraid,’ Jobs replied.  This stunned Weeks, who was good-humoured and confident, but not used to Jobs’s reality distortion field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but that was a premise that Jobs had repeatedly shown he didn’t accept.  He stared at Weeks unblinking.  ‘Yes you can do it.’, He said.  ‘Get your mind around it.  You can do it.'” (p 471-2)

Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoons, comments on Steve Jobs’s frontal acknowledgement of the problems with the antenna on the iPhone 4:

“‘By proclaiming up front that phones are not perfect, Jobs changed the context of the argument with an indisputable assertion. ‘If Jobs had not changed the context from the iPhone 4 to all smartphones in general, I could make you a hilarious comic strip about a product so poorly made that it won’t work if it comes in contact with a human hand. But, as soon as the context is changed to ‘all smartphones have problems,’ the humour opportunity is gone.  Nothing kills humour like a general and boring truth.'” (p. 523

And lastly, on his final retirement: “‘But when I asked how it really felt to be relinquishing control of the company he had built, his tone turned wistful, and he shifted into past tense. ‘I’ve had a very lucky career, a very lucky life, ‘ he replied. ‘ I’ve don all that I can do.'” So, going back to the title? Was Steve Jobs an innovator or a big jerk?  I actually think he was a bit of both.  It seem with great genius comes some personality flaws.  Oh, well, as I type on my MacBook Air, I am grateful for whatever Steve Job was. Recommend Factor:  10/10 (witness pure genius) Unputdownable Factor:  6/10 (digest in smaller doses so you can think) Thanks for reading!! For more, go to:  Also, I’m honoured to be Simon & Schuster’s featured book blogger of the month. So, go check it out.

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