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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

 

It took me the first week of the holidays to read the 630 pages biography of Jobs, written by Walter Isaacson. And it was never a bore. You get a straight insight how Apple works, their culture, the way they design their products and their philosophy.  I was stunned how much detail Walter was allowed to give and how much information he got. Next to that it’s a very personal story, about his successes, his dark site, his upbringing and his death.
I gathered some quotes of the parts I would like to inquire into more deeply over the upcoming period:
  • Steve has a reality distortion field” when Hertzfeld looked puzzled, Tribble elaborated. “In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he is not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules.” the phrase is from the “Menagerie” episodes of Star Trek, “in which the aliens create their own new world through sheer mental force.” (page 117)
This seems to be one of his greatest capacities. He links it himself to his use of LSD when he was young: everything is possible and you are the master of the universe. He knew to transfer this into his real life and to the people around them. I think that most of us have the experience that if we want something strongly it happens. He was never shy of dreaming what he really wanted to happen. He took himself extremely serious in this and didn’t step aside when he encountered resistance. He pushed people aside if needed.
  • Jobs did not organize Apple into semiautonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pusehed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom line. “we don’t have ‘divisions’ with their own P&L,” said Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.” (page 408)
Nice, he is not afraid of internal cannabalization of products or services. That makes the organization only stronger. It is so strange to have all those departments with their own P&L. Even internal staff departments are being treated as profit centers nowadays. It’s just a lack of leadership of the top. Systems can’t take responsibility away.
About the design process:
  • This great room is the one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in, he will sit at one of these tables. […] He can get a sense of the sweep of the whole company, the iPhone and iPad, the iMac and laptop and everything we’re considering. That helps him see where the company is spending its energy and how things connect. […] He gets to see things in relationship to each other, which is pretty hard to do in a big company. [..] There are no formal design  reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, we can make the decisions fluid. We iterate each day. (page 346)
Wonderful solution to have one (physical!) place in your company where everything is brought together. No power points anymore is nice for me to remember (if people need powerpoint they don’t know what they want to say is one of his statements).
  • On many of his major projects, such as the first Toy Story and the Apple store, Jobs pressed “pause” as they neared completion and decided to make major revisions. That happened with the design of the iPhone as well. One Monday morning Jobs went over to see Ive. “I didn’t sleep last night,” he said, “because I realized that I just don’t love it.” Ive to his dismay, instantly realized that Jobs was right. “I remember feeling absolutely embarassed that he had to make the observation.” (page 472)
Great that he does take his feeling (the whole device felt too masculine) and not being able to sleep so seriously. When reading back in my journal I must confess I didn’t the past year. Went on with initiatives that I should have stopped earlier to make room for the initiatives that needed my deeper attention.
This quote has to do with prototyping as well. The difference might be that even an almost completed product he is not shy of to trash. And to start all over again. It’s about perseverance, trust in his intuition and being able to motivate people to go (another) extra mile.
  • On Jobs iPad version 2: ‘there was just one book that he had downloaded: The Autobiography of a Yogi, the guide to meditation and spirituality that he had first read as a teenager, then reread in India, and had read once a year ever since. (page 527)
What is puzzling me is that Jobs was really not a nice guy. He knew it and seemed not to care. At the same time he was a Zen Buddhist but that didn’t bring him peace of mind or ‘interpersonal mellowness.’ The suggestion in the book is made that it has to do with his adoption (in one of his favorite restaurants he met the manager, shook hands, and only found out several years later that it was his biological father. He never met him again and he was not interested in meeting/finding him). The psychological depth is a bit missing in the book but that’s a minor detail.

 

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