Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography Kindle Edition
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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--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
His personality was reflected in the products he created. Just as the core of Apple’s philosophy, from the original Macintosh in 1984 to the iPad a generation later, was the end-to-end integration of hardware and software, so too was it the case with Steve Jobs: His passions, perfectionism, demons, desires, artistry, devilry, and obsession for control were integrally connected to his approach to business and the products that resulted.
The unified field theory that ties together Jobs’s personality and products begins with his most salient trait: his intensity. His silences could be as searing as his rants; he had taught himself to stare without blinking. Sometimes this intensity was charming, in a geeky way, such as when he was explaining the profundity of Bob Dylan’s music or why whatever product he was unveiling at that moment was the most amazing thing that Apple had ever made. At other times it could be terrifying, such as when he was fulminating about Google or Microsoft ripping off Apple.
This intensity encouraged a binary view of the world. Colleagues referred to the hero/shithead dichotomy. You were either one or the other, sometimes on the same day. The same was true of products, ideas, even food: Something was either “the best thing ever,” or it was shitty, brain-dead, inedible. As a result, any perceived flaw could set off a rant. The finish on a piece of metal, the curve of the head of a screw, the shade of blue on a box, the intuitiveness of a navigation screen—he would declare them to “completely suck” until that moment when he suddenly pronounced them “absolutely perfect.” He thought of himself as an artist, which he was, and he indulged in the temperament of one.
His quest for perfection led to his compulsion for Apple to have end-to-end control of every product that it made. He got hives, or worse, when contemplating great Apple software running on another company’s crappy hardware, and he likewise was allergic to the thought of unapproved apps or content polluting the perfection of an Apple device. This ability to integrate hardware and software and content into one unified system enabled him to impose simplicity. The astronomer Johannes Kepler declared that “nature loves simplicity and unity.” So did Steve Jobs.
For Jobs, belief in an integrated approach was a matter of righteousness. “We do these things not because we are control freaks,” he explained. “We do them because we want to make great products, because we care about the user, and because we like to take responsibility for the entire experience rather than turn out the crap that other people make.” He also believed he was doing people a service: “They’re busy doing whatever they do best, and they want us to do what we do best. Their lives are crowded; they have other things to do than think about how to integrate their computers and devices.”
This approach sometimes went against Apple’s short-term business interests. But in a world filled with junky devices, inscrutable error messages, and annoying interfaces, it led to astonishing products marked by beguiling user experiences. Using an Apple product could be as sublime as walking in one of the Zen gardens of Kyoto that Jobs loved, and neither experience was created by worshipping at the altar of openness or by letting a thousand flowers bloom. Sometimes it’s nice to be in the hands of a control freak.
Jobs’s intensity was also evident in his ability to focus. He would set priorities, aim his laser attention on them, and filter out distractions. If something engaged him—the user interface for the original Macintosh, the design of the iPod and iPhone, getting music companies into the iTunes Store—he was relentless. But if he did not want to deal with something—a legal annoyance, a business issue, his cancer diagnosis, a family tug—he would resolutely ignore it. That focus allowed him to say no. He got Apple back on track by cutting all except a few core products. He made devices simpler by eliminating buttons, software simpler by eliminating features, and interfaces simpler by eliminating options.
He attributed his ability to focus and his love of simplicity to his Zen training. It honed his appreciation for intuition, showed him how to filter out anything that was distracting or unnecessary, and nurtured in him an aesthetic based on minimalism.
Unfortunately his Zen training never quite produced in him a Zen-like calm or inner serenity, and that too is part of his legacy. He was often tightly coiled and impatient, traits he made no effort to hide. Most people have a regulator between their mind and mouth that modulates their brutish sentiments and spikiest impulses. Not Jobs. He made a point of being brutally honest. “My job is to say when something sucks rather than sugarcoat it,” he said. This made him charismatic and inspiring, yet also, to use the technical term, an asshole at times.
Andy Hertzfeld once told me, “The one question I’d truly love Steve to answer is, ‘Why are you sometimes so mean?’” Even his family members wondered whether he simply lacked the filter that restrains people from venting their wounding thoughts or willfully bypassed it. Jobs claimed it was the former. “This is who I am, and you can’t expect me to be someone I’m not,” he replied when I asked him the question. But I think he actually could have controlled himself, if he had wanted. When he hurt people, it was not because he was lacking in emotional awareness. Quite the contrary: He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, and know how to relate to them, cajole them, or hurt them at will.
The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible.
The saga of Steve Jobs is the Silicon Valley creation myth writ large: launching a startup in his parents’ garage and building it into the world’s most valuable company. He didn’t invent many things outright, but he was a master at putting together ideas, art, and technology in ways that invented the future. He designed the Mac after appreciating the power of graphical interfaces in a way that Xerox was unable to do, and he created the iPod after grasping the joy of having a thousand songs in your pocket in a way that Sony, which had all the assets and heritage, never could accomplish. Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture. Others do so by mastering details. Jobs did both, relentlessly. As a result he launched a series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries.
Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was, indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead.
Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now, the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.
The difference that Jony has made, not only at Apple but in the world, is huge. He is a wickedly intelligent person in all ways. He understands business concepts, marketing concepts. He picks stuff up just like that, click. He understands what we do at our core better than anyone. If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it’s Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, “Hey, what do you think about this?” He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He’s not just a designer. That’s why he works directly for me. He has more operational power than anyone else at Apple except me. There’s no one who can tell him what to do, or to butt out. That’s the way I set it up.
When Jobs gathered his top management for a pep talk just after he became iCEO in September 1997, sitting in the audience was a sensitive and passionate thirty-year-old Brit who was head of the company’s design team. Jonathan Ive, known to all as Jony, was planning to quit. He was sick of the company’s focus on profit maximization rather than product design. Jobs’s talk led him to reconsider. “I remember very clearly Steve announcing that our goal is not just to make money but to make great products,” Ive recalled. “The decisions you make based on that philosophy are fundamentally different from the ones we had been making at Apple.” Ive and Jobs would soon forge a bond that would lead to the greatest industrial design collaboration of their era.
Ive grew up in Chingford, a town on the northeast edge of London. His father was a silversmith who taught at the local college. “He’s a fantastic craftsman,” Ive recalled. “His Christmas gift to me would be one day of his time in his college workshop, during the Christmas break when no one else was there, helping me make whatever I dreamed up.” The only condition was that Jony had to draw by hand what they planned to make. “I always understood the beauty of things made by hand. I came to realize that what was really important was the care that was put into it. What I really despise is when I sense some carelessness in a product.”
Ive enrolled in Newcastle Polytechnic and spent his spare time and summers working at a design consultancy. One of his creations was a pen with a little ball on top that was fun to fiddle with. It helped give the owner a playful emotional connection to the pen. For his thesis he designed a microphone and earpiece—in purest white plastic—to communicate with hearing-impaired kids. His flat was filled with foam models he had made to help him perfect the design. He also designed an ATM machine and a curved phone, both of which won awards from the Royal Society of Arts. Unlike some designers, he didn’t just make beautiful sketches; he also focused on how the engineering and inner components would work. He had an epiphany in college when he was able to design on a Macintosh. “I discovered the Mac and felt I had a connection with the people who were making this product,” he recalled. “I suddenly understood what a company was, or was supposed to be.” --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B005J3IEZQ
- Publisher : Little, Brown Book Group; 8th edition (October 24, 2011)
- Publication date : October 24, 2011
- Language : English
- File size : 5541 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 568 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #306,501 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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What I learned: Out of all the books I have so far, this one has the biggest impact on my current work. That impact being an obsession on getting the product right. There are many lessons and experts that convince you to be lean and test the smallest hypothesis which is a great strategy but sometimes, you need to follow your gut. When I started reading this book, I had just finished designing out a feature that would encourage much more interaction with our product but was meant to be in a later version. I kept having a feeling that it needed to be put in as soon as possible and reading about Jobs’ gut feelings and obsession for getting it right, pushed me to follow my own feeling and I believe it was a huge decision. Another thing I learned from this book is exactly how I don’t want to treat people. Maybe I am too much of an optimist but I believe that being nice is one of the greatest attributes you can have. I don’t mean you should be a doormat but genuinely wanting to find the best outcome for all parties involved is just right. The way that Jobs treated everyone around him is unacceptable and it is the one thing that will constantly cause an asterisk to be by his name. I learned a lot from this book and I believe it will continue to have a huge effect on my life moving forward.
What I found out about the early years and the development of the personal computer was fascinating. I do remember a lot of the news articles from those years - I was living in San Francisco at the time and a good friend of mine worked for Apple - but I would not consider myself previously knowledgeable about Apple in any comprehensive way. I learned so much of the nuts and bolts of Apple Computer, Inc., from this book. The chapters about the creation of the iPod, iPhone and iPad were very interesting to someone who has used these products for years and years and feels she has some proficiency using what they offer me.
But the insight I gained from the book on Steve Jobs the man left me very sad. While I consider him to have been a true genius with an almost other-worldly imagination, I can't imagine that I would have liked him very much or respected him outside of his professional arena. As the founder and developer of Apple Computer, he was spectacular. He had an intense imagination, vision, and belief in things that had yet to be discovered. He was fortunate enough to find those people who had the same precise work ethic that he did. To find those people and to hone the abilities of the ones who stayed, he had no reservations about crushing their substandard efforts or their feelings. The ones who lasted were the ones who believed in his vision and their Jobs-given opportunity to indulge and demonstrate their own creativity. The ones who lasted were the best and brightest the tech and artistic world had to offer. The ones who lasted were the ones who took his ideas and made them into our reality. I am profoundly grateful to them and to him for the advances they made in technology and artistry. And I guess the one cannot exist without the other. Without his exact personality would the tech world have been turned on its ear and eventually controlled by Apple? I don't know. Actually I doubt it.
In terms of his family, it seemed as if his attention to them was given only when it was not required or demanded elsewhere. His children were discussed very little; the same is true about Laurene Powell, his wife. But it is clear that in his wife he found the one person who was his equal in intelligence and commitment. Their marriage is portrayed as strong but him as absent.
The sections on his cancer and eventual death were moving but not enough to make me feel for him as a person. I am sorry he died but my sorrow has to do with the loss of him professionally and what he might have accomplished and achieved had he lived but not with the loss of him as a man. And yet I can recognize his genius and I'm glad I read the book.
Top reviews from other countries
I recommend to read this, to those who love apple and Jobs but I insist to those who hate him. You will love him by the time you reach the end and wish there was more to read.
Steve Jobs was one crazy guy. He was into spirituality, but he didn't seem to be spiritual at all really. In a weird way he spiritualised products while denigrating fellow human beings. He served humanity by making elegant technology, not by maintaining healthy relationships with those around him.
From a business perspective, it was inspiring to read about his commitment to the vision: the passion for simplicity. The founding of the Apple store, the drive and courage to produce the iPod, iPad and iPhone, the stories are powerful and uplifting . Indeed the story is a big part of his business success - Ross Perot paraphrased it and got a lot of it wrong, but people wanted to retell it because it inspired people.
His genius for selling manifested at his product launches. He was at ease making multi-million dollar deals. He didn't try and play God - there were loads of people who felt cheated by him, but he wasn't bothered. The Pixar subplot was astonishing. To have played such a role in animation, on top of everything else, was just incredible.
But as a human being, he was an untreated compulsive. He was insanely fussy in his demands of Apple technologists, but he showed the same attitude to the people who cooked for him, or treated him for his illness.
I loved the book and read it in a week. I feel I need to have a bigger vision for my life and business for the next 10 years - so I'm grateful for that.
Believed first and foremost in making great things before making money. Pretend to be completely in control and people will assume that you are. The goal of starting a company is to make something you believe in and that will last, not to get rich. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - "less but better". To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. Design must reflect a product's essence. Good execution is as important as a great idea. A-players like to work together, not tolerate B-players. You can't afford to tolerate the B-players. Even the aspects that remain hidden should be done beautifully - a great carpenter isn't going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet just because it isn't seen (how many CEO's behave like that as opposed to finding cost-cuts?). Don't accept "no" for an answer, even if it means adopting a "reality distortion field". Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do. People who know what they're talking about don't need PowerPoint. If something isn't right, you can't just ignore it and say "we'll fix it later" - that's what other companies do! Motivations really matter - if you don't love music, don't create a music product. The best way to begin a speech is to say "let me tell you a story", because nobody wants a lecture. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose: memento mori. "Here's to the crazy ones".
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A surprising man for a surprising time.