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Inside Steve's Bladder
, June 30, 2008
This review is from: Inside Steve's Brain (Hardcover)
It's a curious fact that, unlike previous advances in communications technology, the computer revolution has produced only one real celebrity. As movies, radio and TV came along, each spawned dozens of superstars, but with computers, electronics and the Internet, it's only Steve Jobs. Yes, we know who Bill Gates is, but he is regarded only as some fabulously wealthy tycoon -- similar to Warren Buffett or C. Montgomery Burns. But soon, there will be more celebrity profiles written about Steve Jobs than about Elvis or Marilyn Monroe combined.
Unfortunately, such books are seldom literary masterpieces, and "Inside Steve's Brain" by Leander Kahney seems thrown together to make a quick buck. It contains little information that has not seen print many times, and it's certain that Steve Jobs, always wary of the press, provided no more cooperation to Leander Kahney than he would to "Tiger Beat."
Marketed as a sympathetic look at Chairman Steve, the book dishes no dirt. There's no dish at all. Instead, we get yet another history of Apple Computer, a history of Pixar, an interview with Apple's senior vice president for industrial design, Jonathan Ive, the same accounts of the releases of the iPod and the iPhone that you read in the newspaper, and a fulsome testimonial to the Apple Stores. All this may be of interest to someone who is very young or who has just returned from a long journey to a distant galaxy, but the rest of us already know what Jobs said to John Sculley to lure him away from Pepsi Cola. (Hint: something about selling sugar water.)
In the place of any new information, Mr. Kahney relies on traditional techniques used by schoolboys who must submit a book report for a book they didn't quite read -- padding and repetition and padding and also repetition, a remarkable amount of repetition.
For instance, on page 142 we learn that "When Jobs hired Ron Johnson from Target to head up Apple's retail effort, he asked him to use an alias for several months lest anyone get wind that Apple was planning to open retail stores. Johnson was listed on Apple's phone directory under a false name, which he used to check into hotels."
In case the reader has forgotten this information by page 207, we are again told, "At first Johnson couldn't tell anyone he was working for Apple. He used the alias John Bruce . . . and a phony title to stop competitors from getting wind of Apple's retail plans."
Readers who give serious study to this book will certainly wish to use their yellow highlighters on the amazing fact that the Apple Stores are, ". . . not too big and not too small." Those who have been too timid to enter an Apple Store will be glad to learn on page 203 that, "There's no pressure to spend any money, and the staff is happy to answer any question." And those who are unable to form any short-term memories will be delighted to learn on page 204 that, "There is no pressure to spend, and the staff is friendly and helpful." A sentence later it is revealed that, "Apple's stores are no-pressure hangouts where the customers can play with the machines . . ." All of which makes one relieved that Apple has enough sense not to hire such a hack to write the copy for its ads.
If you have been misinformed and assume that people are interested in computers as furniture, Leander Kahney provides a lightning-bolt of a revelation: "Customers rarely buy computers for the hardware alone; they're more interested in the software it can run." This stuff's gold, people, gold! But as for Apple's iLife suite of applications -- iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand-- "They haven't proven to be killer apps."
So if the book is nothing but threadbare history of Apple and a panegyric to the pressure-free marvel of Apple Stores, why is it called "Inside Steve's Brain"? Because the glory contained inside is that Leander Kahney ends each chapter with a list of "Lessons from Steve," and these are surely the most inspiring truisms you've ever read. Perhaps you'll want to copy these onto flash cards and carry them in your hat band:
* Seek out opportunities.
* Don't worry where the ideas come from.
* Don't be afraid of trial and error.
* Embrace the team.
* Don't lose sight of the customer.
* Concentrate on products.
* Seek out the highest quality.
* Don't force it.
* Find an easy way to present new ideas.
Each of these "Lessons from Steve" (none of which were ever spoken by Steve, of course) is so inspiring that any one of them could replace the "Work Smarter, Not Harder" sign in your cubicle. If he is capable of dispensing such scintillating wisdom, surely "Wired" magazine is too lowly a station for a man of Leander Kahney's talents. I believe it's only a matter of time until he moves up to a medium most suited to his gift with words: say, the covers of matchbooks, washing instruction tags on garments, the safety warnings which begin the owner's manuals of cheap appliances.
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