Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson – From the author of the bestselling biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, this is the exclusive, New York Times bestselling biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Based on more than forty interviews with Jobs conducted over two years—as well as interviews with more than a hundred family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues—Walter Isaacson has written a riveting story of the roller-coaster life and searingly intense personality of a creative entrepreneur whose passion for perfection and ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.
At a time when America is seeking ways to sustain its innovative edge, and when societies around the world are trying to build digital-age economies, Jobs stands as the ultimate icon of inventiveness and applied imagination. He knew that the best way to create value in the twenty-first century was to connect creativity with technology. He built a company where leaps of the imagination were combined with remarkable feats of engineering.
Although Jobs cooperated with this book, he asked for no control over what was written nor even the right to read it before it was published. He put nothing off-limits. He encouraged the people he knew to speak honestly. And Jobs speaks candidly, sometimes brutally so, about the people he worked with and competed against. His friends, foes, and colleagues provide an unvarnished view of the passions, perfectionism, obsessions, artistry, devilry, and compulsion for control that shaped his approach to business and the innovative products that resulted.
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Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.
Summary: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
Steve Jobs has made a giant contribution to our modern, computer-driven world. This book is analyzing the qualities this leader had that allowed him to change the world. Steve was a perfectionist with a very specific, single-minded vision.
Steve’s perfectionism and intensity often was seen as confrontational and rude, although his opinion was that he pushed people to be the best they could be and to create the best product possible.
Topics covered include: the early days, LSD and meditation, Zen Buddhism, Pixar, NeXT, and the history of Apple.
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- Steve was born in 1955 to a muslim man and a catholic woman. Joanne Shieble — Job’s mom — was from a strict catholic family, which would not accept her marriage to a muslim man. She was forced to give Steve up for adoption.
- Steve was adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs — a couple living in Silicon Valley.
- Paul was a very crafty and creative man. He built his own furniture and instilled a love of mechanics in Steve from a young age.
- They lived in a Eichler house that had an open floor plan and floor-to-ceiling glass walls. Steve got influenced by the design of his home and learned to appreciate minimalistic, modern and elegant design.
- Jobs met Steve Wozniac in high school. Wozniac was already an experienced computer technician, and was five years older than Jobs.
- Jobs and Wozniac enjoyed playing pranks and creating gadgets together. Their first product was the “Blue Box” — a device that allowed making long distance phone calls for free, in 1971. Each unit would cost $40 in parts, and Jobs figured out how to make them sell for $150 each. They ended up selling over 90 units. This gave them an early taste of the potential they had in their partnership when they combined Jobs’ creativity with Wozniac’s engineering skills.
- Jobs also had passion for math, sciences and electronics.
- Jobs immersed himself in counterculture and began experimenting with LSD. This came as a result of geeks and hippies overlapping at the end of the 1960s.
- Jobs later said that his extreme focus and refined aesthetics were directly related to his experiments in psychedelic drugs and spirituality.
- In 1972, Steve began studying at Liberal Arts at Reed College. He continued experimenting with meditation and LSD with friends there.
- Through these spiritual experiences, Jobs realized that creating great things was the most important thing than anything else in his life.
- Jobs even spent 7 months in India studying and practicing Zen Buddhism, which became a core aspect of his personality. This further strengthened his minimalist aesthetic approach and natural intuition.
- The “Reality Distortion Field” is a term that was created when describing Steve Jobs’ fanatical dedication to an idea or product. Steve would simply “bend reality to his will” when he decided on a certain outcome or result that he wanted to achieve.
- Steve had a deep respect for the arts and minimalism, and insisted that all Apple products would remain clean and simple.
- Jobs dropped out of college, but continued to take classes for self improvement. One such class was: calligraphy which came into play later in Apple’s distinct user interfaces.
- In the late 1970s, people started viewing computers as a means for self expression. So Steve’s artistic vision came at an opportune time.
- Steve Wozniac came up with the idea for a modern personal computer at the same time that Jobs wanted to start his own business.
- The Homebrew Computer Club was where Wozniak hung out. There, the idea of the marriage of counter-culture and technology was prevalent. Wozniak came up with the idea for the personal computer there.
- Computers at the time consisted of many separate components which were hard to manage and operate. Wozniak imagined putting them all into one container, along with a screen and a keyboard. Wozniak first wanted to give away his design for free, because this was the approach of the Homebrew club. Jobs insisted that they monetized Wozniak’s invention.
- In 1976, Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer with only $1,300 of capital. Jobs picked the name “Apple” because he visited an Apple farm on that day. He thought the name was fun and simple.
- Wozniak and Jobs built the first 100 computers by hand during a period of 1 month. 50 units were sold to a computer dealer, and 50 to family, friends and other private customers. This was the birth of the “Apple I”
- Jobs was controlling, quirky, erratic and tempermental. He would throw temper tantrums if the quality of the work did not meet his expectations. He would verbally assault people.
- Steve’s vision for the Apple II was an uncompromising one of a perfectly designed computer. It was an extremely draining effort for the company.
- Steve would call people’s work “shit” outright, if it did not meat his expectations.
- Mike Scott became president of Apple in order to attempt to keep Steve Jobs under control. Many confrontations ensured between Scott and Jobs, often resulting with Jobs in tears afterwards. Jobs never wanted to compromise on his perfectionism in favor of Scott’s pragmatism.
- Once, Steve Jobs took 2 days to decide on how rounded the corners of the computer case had to be, whilst Scott just wanted to manufacture the cases ASAP. Another time Jobs could not decide, which shade of beige was good enough for the color of the plastic for the computer case.
- The company was doing very well, so these personality clashes were manageable at the time.
- The Apple II ended up selling 6 million units, cementing apple as an icon in the space. Jobs, however wasn’t entirely satisfied, as he considered the Apple II to be more of Wozniak’s contribution rather than his own.
- Jobs wanted an even better computer. He started working on the “Macintosh” — the successor to the Apple II. He wanted to “make a dent in the universe” — as he put it.
- Jobs largely took the idea for the Macintosh from Jef Raskin who was an expert on computer user interfaces. Jobs put in a very powerful chip at the time, which allowed for richer graphics than the competition. The whole computer was meant to be controlled by a mouse.
- The Macintosh had the famous 1984 marketing campaign directed by Hollywood’s filmmaker Ridley Scott. This ad campaign propelled Macintosh to the number one spot, and Jobs along with it.
- Jobs manipulated many journalists into thinking that he was giving an “exclusive” interview, thus landing a number of high profile interviews.
- At Steve’s extravagant 30th birthday party, singer Ella Fitzgerald was entertaining.
- Steve continued to yell at employees, calling them “assholes” when they did not have the level of perfection that he did. This all led to the Apple board of directors letting go Jobs in 1985.
- After recovering from the Apple firing, Jobs finally could design a product without compromising his vision. He designed NeXT — a perfectly square computer, for which he paid as much as $100,000 just to design the logo. This project took too long to release, was hard to engineer and make, and had simply cost too much for the average consumer to afford. NeXT did not even make a dent in the market.
- At the same time as working on NeXT, Jobs also became a majority shareholder in Pixar — a company that mixed art and technology. By 1988, Jobs had invested over $50 million into Pixar. He also lost money on NeXT.
- In 1988 Pixar released “Tin Toy” — an animated short film which showcased what the studios technology could do. This film won an academy award for Best Animated Short Film in 1988.
- It took Pixar another 8 years to work on it’s major partnership with Disney, culminating in the release of Toy Story in 1996, which became a top-grossing movie of the year.
- Jobs held 80% shares in Pixar. When Pixar went public, the shares multiplied 20-fold. This brought Jobs’ net worth to $1.2 billion.
- Jobs reconnected with his real family in 1986, after the death of his adoptive mother (at 31 years old). He also found out that he had a sister — Mona Simpson who also turned out to be strong-willed and creative. They eventually became close.
- Mona Simpson published a novel called “A Regular Guy” which was based on Jobs’ characteristics. Jobs didn’t want to feel anger towards his sister, so he never read that novel.
- Jobs met Laurene Powell in 1991. They went on to have 3 children: Reed Paul Jobs, and sisters: Erin and Eve. Jobs also had a previous daughter named Lisa, from his first relationship.
- Jobs had a largely binary approach to interpersonal relationships: either extremely passionate or very cold.
- After Jobs firing from apple, the company started to decline. In 1996, Gil Amelio was appointed CEO tasked with rescuing the company by employing new ideas. In 1997, Apple acquired NeXT for its software. This made Jobs an advisor to Apple.
- Jobs started to place NeXT employees at high ranking positions in Apple. He began to reinstate himself into a position of power at Apple, as much as he could.
- The Apple board of directors realized that Amelio was not going to save Apple, and decided to give Jobs another chance. They offered him the position of CEO again, but surprisingly he declined. He wanted to keep on as advisor, and assist with finding a new CEO for Apple.
- Jobs then proceeded to gain power, and eventually forced the board of directors to resign. He felt they were just slowing the progress of the company.
- There was a decade of legal battles between Microsoft and Apple. This situation was ended by Steve Jobs when he formed a partnership with Microsoft, getting them to create Microsoft Office for the Mac. This made the Apple stock price skyrocket.
- Jobs eventually and reluctantly accepted the CEO position again. However, he wanted to minimize the number of products and partnerships that Apple had. He only saw room for 4 main products: a Professional Laptop, a Personal Laptop, a Professional Desktop and a Personal Desktop.
- In 1997, before Jobs’ reinstatement, Apple had a loss of over $1 billion. However, just a year later, after Jobs began as CEO again, the company gained over $300 million. Jobs single-handedly saved the company — as it appears.
- Steve Jobs discovered Jony Ivy — a creative designer with visionary ideas. Jobs made Ivy the second most powerful person at Apple. Jobs and Ive designed the iMac shortly after. Priced at $1200 and targeted at the average consumer, the iMac was everything Jobs envisioned: playful, clean, beautiful and capable.
- The iMac launched in 1998 and became the fastest selling product in Apple’s history.
- Jobs then created the Apple Store, in order to differentiate his products from the wide spread technology products which were becoming too prevalent to compare against in the same store front.
- The board of directors was reluctant to open up Apple stores, because Gateway Computers did not realize the return on their investment doing the same thing. Jobs however fought for his vision, and got the board to approve the initial 4 Apple Stores for being opened.
- Jobs designed the first store himself. It had minimalism and clarity in every aspect. The whole experienced was optimized for the customer. Jobs was obsessed with every small detail of the experience. The first store opened in May of 2001 and was a huge commercial success.
- The Manhattan Apple store became the highest grossing store among all stores of New York City.
- Jobs then came up with the “Digital Hub Strategy”. The idea was that you would always have a personal computer at the center of your new digital lifestyle. Jobs wanted your personal computer to control multiple other devices which were all used for different purposes. The first of such devices became the iPod, which featured the iconic new “click-wheel”, which we all know so well.
- Critics believed that the iPod was too expensive, and people would not pay $399 for a music player, but the consumer market proved them wrong, and by 2007, iPod sales accounted for half of Apple’s entire revenue.
- Jobs then wanted to build a cell phone, as he became worried that new phones with built-in music players could make the iPod redundant.
- In 2007, the iPhone I was born. At its heart were two main technologies: the touch screen — which allowed for multiple simultaneous touches, and extra strong Gorilla Glass. Critics were again skeptical of the iPhone’s steep price of $500. However the consumer once again proved them wrong, making the iPhone produce half of Apple’s revenue by 2010.
- In 2010, the iPad was launched. It sold 15 million in the first 9 months and was a large success as well.
- Jobs insisted that a sealed, integrated computer would produce the best user experience. He would not compromise on opening up his systems for modification. Bill Gates of Microsoft had a completely opposite view. He would constantly license his software to third-party manufacturers, including Macintosh.
- Gates and Jobs had a long-standing rivalry. Jobs accused Windows for stealing the Macintosh’s graphical user interface. Both companies, however took many ideas from Xerox to start with.
- Jobs also accused Google of copying many of the iPhone’s features in Android’s operating system. Jobs would not back down on his claims that both Microsoft and Google stole core ideas from Apple.
- Life at Apple was tough. Underperformance was not tolerated even in the least. You either burned out, got fired for under-performing, or performed at the expected level. Jobs was notorious for firing people on the spot as soon as he got the impression that you were not an A-Player. Working 90-hour weeks was not uncommon at Apple. You were also occasionally called a: “fucking dickless asshole”.
- Jobs first found out that he had cancer in 2003. Jobs would not agree to surgery for 9 months, during which his tumour grew. He chose acupuncture and vegan diets instead to attempt at curing his cancer. He then was forced into invasive surgery to remove the tumour.
- The cancer returned in 2008 and Jobs again refused traditional treatments in favor of fruit and vegetable-based dieting. Jobs underwent a liver transplant, however his health deteriorated, and he died in 2011.
- Jobs had incredible intensity and made Apple the most valuable technology company in the world. Jobs said that he was very happy with his life and career. He believes that he has achieved all that he wanted to do.
- Jobs strategy of integrated, tightly-bound systems prevailed and stood the test of time. This strategy allowed for a superior, seamless user experience. Apple surpassed Microsoft as the most valuable company in the world right before Steve Jobs’ death.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: It is difficult to read the opening pages of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs without feeling melancholic. Jobs retired at the end of August and died about six weeks later. Now, just weeks after his death, you can open the book that bears his name and read about his youth, his promise, and his relentless press to succeed. But the initial sadness in starting the book is soon replaced by something else, which is the intensity of the read–mirroring the intensity of Jobs’s focus and vision for his products. Few in history have transformed their time like Steve Jobs, and one could argue that he stands with the Fords, Edisons, and Gutenbergs of the world. This is a timely and complete portrait that pulls no punches and gives insight into a man whose contradictions were in many ways his greatest strength. –Chris Schluep
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Walter Isaacson
Q: It’s becoming well known that Jobs was able to create his Reality Distortion Field when it served him. Was it difficult for you to cut through the RDF and get beneath the narrative that he created? How did you do it?
Isaacson: Andy Hertzfeld, who worked with Steve on the original Macintosh team, said that even if you were aware of his Reality Distortion Field, you still got caught up in it. But that is why Steve was so successful: He willfully bent reality so that you became convinced you could do the impossible, so you did. I never felt he was intentionally misleading me, but I did try to check every story. I did more than a hundred interviews. And he urged me not just to hear his version, but to interview as many people as possible. It was one of his many odd contradictions: He could distort reality, yet he was also brutally honest most of the time. He impressed upon me the value of honesty, rather than trying to whitewash things.
Q: How were the interviews with Jobs conducted? Did you ask lots of questions, or did he just talk?
Isaacson: I asked very few questions. We would take long walks or drives, or sit in his garden, and I would raise a topic and let him expound on it. Even during the more formal sessions in his living room, I would just sit quietly and listen. He loved to tell stories, and he would get very emotional, especially when talking about people in his life whom he admired or disdained.
Q: He was a powerful man who could hold a grudge. Was it easy to get others to talk about Jobs willingly? Were they afraid to talk?
Isaacson: Everyone was eager to talk about Steve. They all had stories to tell, and they loved to tell them. Even those who told me about his rough manner put it in the context of how inspiring he could be.
Q: Jobs embraced the counterculture and Buddhism. Yet he was a billionaire businessman with his own jet. In what way did Jobs’ contradictions contribute to his success?
Isaacson: Steve was filled with contradictions. He was a counterculture rebel who became a billionaire. He eschewed material objects yet made objects of desire. He talked, at times, about how he wrestled with these contradictions. His counterculture background combined with his love of electronics and business was key to the products he created. They combined artistry and technology.
Q: Jobs could be notoriously difficult. Did you wind up liking him in the end?
Isaacson: Yes, I liked him and was inspired by him. But I knew he could be unkind and rough. These things can go together. When my book first came out, some people skimmed it quickly and cherry-picked the examples of his being rude to people. But that was only half the story. Fortunately, as people read the whole book, they saw the theme of the narrative: He could be petulant and rough, but this was driven by his passion and pursuit of perfection. He liked people to stand up to him, and he said that brutal honesty was required to be part of his team. And the teams he built became extremely loyal and inspired.
Q: Do you believe he was a genius?
Isaacson: He was a genius at connecting art to technology, of making leaps based on intuition and imagination. He knew how to make emotional connections with those around him and with his customers.
Q: Did he have regrets?
Isaacson: He had some regrets, which he expressed in his interviews. For example, he said that he did not handle well the pregnancy of his first girlfriend. But he was deeply satisfied by the creativity he ingrained at Apple and the loyalty of both his close colleagues and his family.
Q: What do you think is his legacy?
Isaacson: His legacy is transforming seven industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, digital publishing, and retail stores. His legacy is creating what became the most valuable company on earth, one that stood at the intersection of the humanities and technology, and is the company most likely still to be doing that a generation from now. His legacy, as he said in his “Think Different” ad, was reminding us that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.
Photo credit: Patrice Gilbert Photography
About the Author
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of “Time” magazine. He is the author of “Steve Jobs”; “Einstein: His Life and Universe”; “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life”; and “Kissinger: A Biography,” and the coauthor of “The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.” He lives in Washington, DC.
Originally published: 24 October 2011
Pages: 656 pp