Book review: Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs.
It is the day in Australia to be thinking about poor leadership and its sequelae. And coincidentally I’ve just finished up everyone’s favourite summer hardback brick (all hail the Kindle), the authorised Steve Jobs biography, and I just read this today too:
However, sometimes really smart employees develop agendas other than improving the company. Rather than identifying weaknesses, so that he can fix them, he looks for faults to build his case. Specifically, he builds his case that the company is hopeless and run by a bunch of morons. The smarter the employee, the more destructive this type of behavior can be. Simply put, it takes a really smart person to be maximally destructive, because otherwise nobody else will listen to him.
Why would a smart person try to destroy the company that he works for?… He is fundamentally a rebel—She will not be happy unless she is rebelling; this can be a deep personality trait. Sometimes these people actually make better CEOs than employees.
Well, good to see that someone understands Jobs better than me.
One major thing that struck me about this book is that Isaacson is really quite flattering about… Bill Gates. It is, however, fairly easy to do this in a biography of Jobs, because Gates was really one of the fairly few people with both power and emotional and financial distance to assess Jobs relatively dispassionately and to go on the record about it. He also never had a intense and short-lived mutual admiration relationship with him in the way that Jobs had with many men he worked more closely with. Gates and Jobs apparently always considered each other a little bit of a despicable miracle: astonishingly good work with your little company over there, Bill/Steve, I would never have considered it believed with your deluded pragmatic/uncompromising approach to software aesthetics.
I read these books mostly for the leadership and corporate governance insights at the moment: unfortunately there’s not a lot here. There is of course a lot of unreplicatable information about Jobs personally: I doubt a firm belief that vegans don’t need to wear deodorant is essential to building a massive IT company. Likewise, if your boss is uncompromising and divides the world into shitheads and geniuses, the solution turns out to (in this book) “be Jony Ive or John Lasseter”. Not really a repeatable result.
It shouldn’t (and didn’t!) really come as a surprise, but if you want to know more about Jobs personally, read this book. If you want to know a great deal about the successes and failures of Apple’s corporate strategy, you’ll largely see them through a Jobs-shaped lens. Which probably isn’t the worst lens for it, but not the only one. In any case, it’s a nice flowing read (I read it in a couple of days) and is ever so full of those “oh goodness he did WHAT?” anecdotes you can subject your patient housemates to, if you like.