if you love steve jobs and your apple products, don’t read walter isaacson’s biography of him.
in fact, if you admire steve jobs, don’t read anything about him unless it’s something steve jobs says about himself.
I read through 576 pages of isaacson’s book for the same reason i read any biography – searching for the arc of a life. like most other things about jobs (and apple) I got sucked into the vortex and willingly wasted some brain cells thinking that the journey of jobs and apple would be an interesting and insightful lesson on the inventions and business in the golden age of technology. some of the journey is interesting indeed, particularly the early years (when I was in college and friends with the tech nerds who were neither cool nor exalted at the time). but the journey gets murky as it becomes more and more clear that isaacson got sucked far too deeply inside steve jobs’ reality distortion.
after every single story about jobs’ fabled temper, his lack of social skills, his arrogance, compulsiveness and downright cruelty, isaacson issues the caveat, “but, they got it done” “or, it got better” or “they appreciated how he made them the best.” doubtful.
the history of the world and innovation is filled with stories of leaders who led by inspiration not denigration. it’s also filled with stories of how cult leaders operate. it’s a two pronged approach: tear down everyone (everything) else, elevate yourself to deity. take credit for all their hard work, make them believe that’s okay.
steve jobs was not an edison. I do not believe that steve jobs was even a genius. I believe that steve jobs was so arrogant as to believe that he was a genius but what he understood above all else was how to steal from others and convince himself that it was his to take credit for. (he put his name on almost every patent at apple even when his involvement was minimal at best) steve jobs was a creative opportunist who had the vision (and the means) to assemble the right people and pieces to get something done.
he was not the only brilliant mind in the technology arena and without steve jobs the world still would have changed. with or without his version of design.
what was clear from isaacson’s version of jobs was that with his success came a legion of enablers, isaacson included. afterall, do you risk your job and your future in what you love to tell your volatile boss that it wasn’t his idea? steve jobs and apple have (and always had) a vested interest in the myth.
isaacson spends an inordinate amount of time repeating jobs’ mantra of simplicity… perfection…integration…design… ooooohhhhhmmmmmm but conveniently forgets to mention that very many (if not all) of apple’s products don’t work first time out and often quit working properly within a few months. so is perfection putting out a product where the customer has to purchase the warranty agreement for survival really perfection?
no doubt apple wins on all counts with the cool factor. and often beauty of design (c’mon the jelly bean stuff was not enduring). and beauty of packaging. I have a hard time throwing away the packaging from apple products. (and after watching the nightline report on the chinese factory where apple products are made, and hearing about the profit margin, I understand that the beauty and substantial packaging is to fool me into forgetting that I paid waaaaaay too much for the product).
isaacson included a lot of material on the design and concept of the apple store and how it proved to be one more example of jobs’ brilliance. but he forgot to mention how every single apple store sinks of b.o. (then again, it was probably a jobs concept considering that he spent most of his life (falsely) believing that because he didn’t eat animal products he didn’t stink). or how the geniuses at the genius bar take your apple computer in the back and work on it using a p.c.
jobs spent most of his life believing a lot of things that were ridiculous. but what he almost never spent time thinking about was other people (unless he needed to exact punishment on them). he often punished others for what he was guilty of. he had infinite forgiveness for himself, none for others. this was a man so filled with his own arrogance that empathy never even occurred to him.
I can forgive the arrogance and brashness of a young man. but as time goes on in our lives, the idea (perhaps even the buddhist idea jobs reportedly emulate) is that we grow and learn. and no, growing and learning doesn’t just refer to revenge or distrust. for 576 pages I searched for redemption for jobs, or a moment of self-reflection. don’t bother. it’s not there. to the very end, jobs stuck with his arrogance, self-involvement and self-aggrandizement.
there is very little evidence that he ever cared about what really matters in life and without that you are not entitled to the label of greatness, nor the lofty ideals of putting a ding in the universe.
how fitting it is that he titled himself iCEO of apple and that products to follow carried the ubiquitous “i” preface.