Steve Jobs – and the masters of the Universe

The Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaason is the dramatic life story of a man who despite the acute Narcissistic personality disorder went on to create one of the most loved company ever. Steve Jobs was on a mission to bring art and aesthetics to the common man through great products. For him profit was a poor guiding philosophy for business, and path to greatness lay in creating insanely great products. He must have been right, he did create the most valuable company on the planet.

He himself would have hated this book, it paints an authentic and a brutal portrait of him. The first half shows him sliding down the path of self destruction, but at the same time gaining some profound experiences. This turbulent life experience gives him a unique perspective and a rough edge which stay with him for the rest of his life and drive him forward, and becoming his strength. He starts out being a rebel who wants to free up the world from the tyranny of big global corporations, but ended up controlling everything, and becoming the biggest giant of all. There are one too many references of Steve Jobs crying, of him parking in the space reserved for the handicapped, of screwing over those closest to him, of classifying people either as Enlightened or Assholes. But everyone around him seemed to know that they are in the company of someone special, and they endured him, happily.

There are a ton of ideas in this book. This isn’t some insipid drivel by a management guru, this is the real thing; veiws of a man who transformed each industry he touched and who bent the rules of business to his will and who spoke his mind, bluntly. Consumers took the back seat as the vision of Steve Jobs created a world that the consumers could not even have imagined. He though of himself as an artist who happened to be running a business. A guy who deeply loved Dylan and Beetles, and such love for music drove him to create devices and eco-system which then turned around the fortunes of the music business. His products were led by design and not engineering, by Bauhaus aesthetics, by simplicity, and they all lay at the intersection of humanities and technology. His biggest breakthroughs came through simple face to face conversations and long walks. He chased his intuition to the limit placing all his bets on his vision. And all his bets worked out as if there was real divine guidance. There was no chasing of the high life, maybe chasing of recognition to some extant. In the book he is constantly accused of stealing credit even from the people within apple, but then he was the curator of ideas, and because he decided to pick an idea from the million others that got pitched to him really does make it his idea in some ways.

I personally had never bought into the whole Apple hysteria and had almost been put off by the irrational devotion of the Mac-heads, including some of my friends. I could never quite get it then. iPod became a betseller across the world but I thought it is a a matter of time before something better came along, atleast which could double up as an external hard-drive – what was the point of carrying around a 64GB device which couldn’t even act as an external hard drive? But nothing came even close. And there is still nothing 10 years after the first iPod came out. I was mesmerized watching his WWDC key note address (deferred streaming on the internet)  in which he launched iPhone. He had leaped ahead of the entire smart phone market by atleast 2 years by and had transformed the phones into an elegant and robust media device.  His preference for a closed systems seemed at odds with how I thought the rest of the world and consumers were evolving, but at the same time people were going crazy about the phone. I waited for an alternative. And this time it did come. The android – an open system, humble about itself, the underdog in the world which was increasingly getting dominated by Apple, it gave user greater choice. This biography puts the story of evolution of Apple’s design and business philosophy into perspective for me.

You get behind-the-scene look at the epic faceoff between Microsoft and Apple, Between Disney and Pixar, and the still unfolding Apple Vs Google, and you get to know each of the titans of the modern IT era in relation to Steve Jobs; they all seem a little smaller. These legends all play out their parts standing in sharp silhouette of their personal quirks and biases and shortcomings and strengths, against their bright achievements, but None seem to come even close to Steve’s drive.

The book has its negatives – it is too long one (571 pages) and could have said the same thing in a third of the book. It repeats itself often. Walter Isaason seems to holds himself back from passing judgment on Steve Jobs, almost suffering from the same reality distortion field he keeps writing about. But it is an amazing story of one of the greatest business leaders of all times. This book deserves to be read widely.

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