Steve Jobs can’t distort this reality

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. 

 

 

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4 Comments

Filed under Apple, Business

4 responses to “Steve Jobs can’t distort this reality

  1. Mike S

    Marge,

    No, you have some of that wrong. I am up to page 527 — I have been reading the book for a couple of months on my iPhone to use up dead time (usually waiting for kids somewhere). In order to properly place Jobs where he belongs, you need to look at what Apple and Pixar have done relative to what others have done. If you do that, here are the conclusions you will come to:

    –Jobs *was* a genius. That doesn’t mean that everything he touched turned to gold — plenty of evidence to the contrary. But, you do him a disservice by saying that he merely stole ideas. Everyone steals ideas and builds upon them — so did Bill Gates and Edison. Jobs’ genius was the occasional recognition of an idea in the rough that no one else fully understood. What the Xerox PARC people and Pixar people were doing, for example.

    That’s genius. He realized these things were game changers before anyone else did — or at least before anyone else was able to perfect them. Ditto for the iPod, iPhone and iPad. If you don’t want to call it genius, fine. But don’t say it was accidental or that he wasn’t the lynchpin that kept the whole thing together.

    –“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.”

    Well, OK. But, you can say the same thing about Edison, Newton, Tesla, etc. He did it first — and he was the only one of his generation who could do it. Everyone else was many years behind him. Look at Microsoft, for example — unable to *ever* leapfrog him in terms of game-changing technology. That’s stunning.

    –Re: Job’s personality: Isaacson is way too kind, unless there is a chapter on personality disorders that I have yet to get to. I’m sure someone will or has done a study of his psychological makeup, and I will definitely read it. What a remarkably vile person.

    –He learned in the end that his reality distortion field does not affect surgically curable pancreatic cancer. What a loony tune.

    But, still a genius.

    • Mike,
      I was not saying that Apple merely stole everthing, I was making the point that Jobs stole (in the form of taking credit) every great idea from those around him, especially the developers, designers and engineers at Apple to inflate himself.
      I doubt whether he was “the only one of his generation who could do it”. I think part of it was him and part of it was that he was the right place at the right time. Or, maybe I’d have an easier time thinking that he was as great as his myth if he wasn’t such an utter failure as a human being.
      I deliberately stayed away from mentioning Bill Gates because that seems to be the hot button argument between Apple lovers and Microsoft lovers (are there such people?) because Gates always comes out on the wrong end of that discussion. Yet, didn’t Gates develop the Excel and Powerpoint software first for Apple. So if it’s on the Apple platform it’s perfection, if it’s on the PC platform it’s shit. He may not have been there first, but where did it all shake out in terms of market share?

      • Mike S

        “I was making the point that Jobs stole (in the form of taking credit) every great idea from those around him, especially the developers, designers and engineers at Apple to inflate himself.”

        Marge, he did all of that. That was the useless side of his personality. But, it was knowing which ideas to take credit for and nurture that was his genius.

        Look, if he only did it once, it’s a fluke. He did it over and over again. He was like Ryan Howard — more strikeouts than homers, but enough homers to be a superstar.

        “I think part of it was him and part of it was that he was the right place at the right time.”

        I’d stake my two computer science degrees on the fact that there was no one like him, and that he made his place the right time.

        “Or, maybe I’d have an easier time thinking that he was as great as his myth if he wasn’t such an utter failure as a human being.”

        I think that’s the difference in our opinion. I separate the a-hole from the person who gave us the iPod, IPhone and iPad. 🙂 I admire what he did — but I don’t admire him or how he did it.

        “I deliberately stayed away from mentioning Bill Gates because that seems to be the hot button argument between Apple lovers and Microsoft lovers (are there such people?) because Gates always comes out on the wrong end of that discussion.”

        Bill Gates was at the right place at the right time. If IBM had bought DOS, you never would have heard of Gates. There is no comparison between him and Jobs in terms of how they operated. [Not that Gates isn’t smarter than I am — he is — or didn’t make some of his own luck — he did.]

        As for love, I’m quite happy w/ Windows 7! And, my iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, and Airport Express. I ain’t nobody’s Fanboy — I like whatever works, and I don’t care who makes it!

        “So if it’s on the Apple platform it’s perfection, if it’s on the PC platform it’s shit.”

        That’s not an argument I make, as I write this on my Dell Laptop running Win 7 Home Premium. I have never owned a Mac, though I have used them.

        “He may not have been there first, but where did it all shake out in terms of market share?”

        Depends on how you look at it…

        –Macs are steadily increasing market share and are over 10%.
        –I’m not even going to take the time to compare iOS and Windows Mobile market share. Windows Mobile is essentially zero!
        –The above means they are not a player in the smartphone or tablet market.
        –iTunes is a really big deal. Microsoft doesn’t have anything like it.
        –Microsoft Zune v. the iPod. The Zune is now a collector’s item!

        So, Macs are very profitable, Apple owns tablets and MP3 players versus a zero share for MS, owns a healthy share of the smartphone market versus a near-zero share for MS — and is rumored to be working on TVs next. Meanwhile, things like Chromebooks are eliminating the need for Windows for many people. [Not me for a long time — but most people just use e-mail and the Web.]

        Gates’ model worked out better for his personal wealth, but there ain’t no debate on who was the visionary. [Gates isn’t alone. For example, look at the Xerox execs who let their PARC jewels go to waste!]

  2. hairygrim

    I have read an excerpt of the book on iBooks (yes, I love apple products, in fact I am writing this with the wordpress app) and I completely agree that the biography is not an accurate portrayal of his life. However, I don’t think that this is necessarily the writer’s fault, he was simply trying to write a biography.

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