Aloha, Steve Jobs
I have just finished Walter Isaacson's compelling biography of Apple's Steve Jobs, one of the most fascinating portraits of a leader I have ever encountered.
Dylan Baker reads the unabridged audio version, which is very, very long, but contains not one minute of excess. From start to 656-page finish, Isaacson creates a portrait of a brilliant, difficult, defiant, determined, passionate, mean-spirited, visionary, headstrong, OCD, insightful, etc., etc., etc., man.
I am still processing my reaction to the content, but I don't remember any biography that so inspired me. No doubt, part of the fascination is because of my San Francisco Bay Area roots — I am just a few years older than Jobs and grew up about 15 minutes north of Palo Alto, and was at U.C. Santa Cruz for my undergrad years, so I resonated to many of his influences.
The book helped me better understand technology issues, including the two opposite philosophies behind Apple and Microsoft, and the turning point (in my opinion, the iPhone more than the iPod) where everything changed. Steve Jobs insisted on a "closed" system that was intuitive and user-friendly, where every device easily integrates with any other Apple device — but users can't even change a battery. Bill Gates' model was creating software that could be licensed by just about anyone and used however they pleased. The book chronicles the development of both companies, and how they competed, but also how they intersected and even cooperated from time to time.
The dominant theme of the book is how Steve absolutely insisted on the marriage of art and techology — to the point of almost absurdity. (He probably defines the term "micro-manage.") Jobs worshiped simplicity and minimalism, and intuitive operation of devices, and he pushed his teams to near breakdowns in his demands for absolute perfection in products. He was not afraid, even at the last stages of production, to insist on revisions. It had to be right. Period. Not every product was a success, indeed, some were dramatic flameouts. But he kept pushing.
One of my favorite things about Apple is the packaging, and the visual delight of opening the box — another target of Jobs' compulsive, hands-on management. I also like the never-on-sale pricing that removes any concerns that you could have gotten a better deal at another store. (Ditto). And speaking of stores, they were another focus of Jobs' acute attention, all the way down to choosing the floor tiles and the quality of the glass used for the stairs.
And it all comes down to that wedding of art and technology.
The biography also helped me better understand my own career path and how I run Law Technology News magazine. I don't have the talent, vision, or resources of Steve Jobs — but the mix of art and technology has been, and will continue to be, a driving force in Law Technology News magazine. With art director Shane DeLeers (also an Apple devotée) we always push to integrate design and art with the words of the magazine.
The book also reinforced my passion (or as many would say, obsession) for clear, clean, accessible, jargon-free, gender-neutral language — with positive, active words rather than passive. I believe fiercely in the anthropology of language — that the words and images we choose create the perceptions and realities of the reader. My goal with LTN always has been to empower our readers (lawyers, judges, CIOs, IT, CFOs, GCs, paralegals, vendors, et. al) and help us understand that technology really can help us build better businesses, better communities, and better relationships.
Ultimately, there are so many lessons in this book. Among them: That you don't have to be perfect to effect change. That failure is inevitable on the path to success. That conflicting technologies can co-exist. That you need to actually listen to your doctors. :( That OCD behavior has its benefits :)
So here's to passionate, fearless, imperfect leaders who inspire us to do our best work. And here's to art and technology. Thank you, Steve Jobs, we miss you already.
Videos of Isaacson discussing the book (scroll down) here.
Image: Simon & Schuster
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Very Well spoken I fully agree,
Posted by: Flemming | Dec 20, 2011 5:09:35 PM