After I finished reading the last page of Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography yesterday, I heaved a sigh of relief. The experience of reading was like getting intimate with an extraordinary genius who had a highly abrasive personality. We get to meet a young billionaire who either insulted people on their face or highly praised them. This arrogance has less to do with his wealth and more with the rebellious and artistic side of his personality.
The extraordinary thing about his life is that despite several close calls with death, he never mellowed down and accepted status quo. Wherever he saw imperfections, be it badly designed products or inefficiently run businesses, he tried to change them, often radically. When most people would try to shrug off saying ‘Well, nobody seems to have a better way of doing this’, Jobs turned the question around and reduced it to simplistic solution, making you wonder, ‘That is so obvious. Why didn’t I think of it first?’.
Though we don’t get much insight into Job’s process of simplification, it certainly took several rounds of iterations and rework till he was satisfied. He would rather abandon months of effort than ship something that was not intuitively perfect as in the case of completely redesigning the iPhone’s glass face. He believed in producing products that met his high personal standards and led to his personal satisfaction. In contrast, while other CEOs were trying to please the market by somehow meeting customer expectations, Jobs completely ignored what they think they want and followed his instinct. This explains the tremendous passion he invested in building them and defending them no matter what the circumstances. Unlike any CEO, he could talk about his products at the highest level and quickly zoom into the minutest detail without batting an eyelid.
We also get to know Apple and Pixar - two great companies that are not just innovative but have had tremendous cultural impact. Some of the interesting characteristics that explains their success are:
Collaboration: Pixar’s building is marked by a large central atrium that facilitates collaboration by literally bumping into people. At Apple, various business unit heads have long meetings every week and take decisions by discussing every detail even at early stages.
Questioning: Jobs loved to argue and obsess over every detail with everyone. It was not just a matter of convincing him as much as demonstrating that you have really explored the problem from every angle.
Passion: Like its customers, Apple’s employees truly believed in building something ‘world changing’ and this made them stretch themselves to limits, unlike other companies.
In short, the book is a great read as it doesn’t try to glorify Jobs. It tries to give an objective and well-researched account of a technology legend. Highly recommended.