The voluminous (650 page) biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson tries to decipher one of the most enigmatic and creative persons of our time. The book is written with full cooperation from Steve Jobs; however, he had no control over what was written in this in-depth and incisive book covering the professional and personal life of the one the greatest innovators and marketing geniuses of our times. The book is a product of research spanning two years and more than forty interviews with Jobs and close friends, enemies, rivals, associates, rivals, family members, and ex-girlfriends. Water Isaacson is the founder of Alpine Institute, a think tank, a former CEO of CNN and author of many biographies including Einstein: His Life and Universe, Ben Franklin: An American Life and Kissinger: A Biography.
The well-researched biography covers the personal and professional life of Jobs. Isaacson delves into the minute aspects of jobs’ personal life, his childhood, upbringing and evolution as a professional. His childhood and personal life are inseparably linked. Jobs tried to keep his life very simple but the paradox was he was an extremely complex, megalomaniac with an obsession for detail and perfection, and ruthless in his dealings with his colleagues while working on different projects in Apple.
Isaacson goes about with an incisive and critical journalistic bent of mind presenting the story as is. The biography examines Jobs’ childhood, his adoption by his working class parents, and his childhood as a precautious child and his tumultuous youthful years as LSD dropping college drop out. Isaacson successfully attempts to show the inextricable link between Jobs’ childhood, the painful fact of abandonment by his biological parents and the bohemian, hippie background on the end product of Jobs as an innovator, entrepreneur and marketer par excellence. Job’s intensity as a professional, attention to detail from outside in as opposed to inside out, and the obsession for perfection are very closely tied to his background having a far reaching impact on his psyche. Isaacson talks at length the term “reality distortion field” (RDF) which makes Jobs see and convince others to accomplish things which are humanly impossible tasks meeting unrealistic deadlines. The RDF is Jobs’ ability through and charismatic power to make him and others believe in doing the impossible. Jobs effectively used the RDF to accomplish the impossible task of getting a project or product delivered on time.
Jobs is probably one of the most enigmatic personalities of our time. Jobs was a bohemian who followed Zen Buddhism in pursuit of enlightenment. On the other hand, he become an entrepreneur and innovator catering to the technological and material world leading to the creation of a company which is one of the most valued companies with a market cap of half a trillion dollars. He never pined for wealth for himself but became the greatest wealth creators of all time. His almost ruthless ways of dealing with associates can be traced to his bitterness of being abandoned by his biological parents. Jobs’ obsession for perfection is also a concomitant outcome of his background and upbringing. Jobs contradictions show in every aspect of his life; “he who is abandoned turned around and abandoned his own child” from his live-in girlfriend.
Jobs’ biography is a must read for all management students and innovation/marketing students. His management style may be unconventional almost bordering on tyranny but it is worth examining his ability to innovate, think ahead of our times, design, execute and market products without the benefit of market research. Jobs himself is not an engineer but saw himself at the intersection of humanities and technology thus bringing sense to technology. This approach of his led to the design of products which are user friendly and intuitive. He was the first to realize the potential of graphical interface and introduce it in his Apple computers. The book talks about how he raided the Xerox R&D Center and stole their ideas; however, credit should be given to him to realize the potential of graphical interface technology and execute the technology through his Apple products. Management gurus acknowledge that it is not the innovation but the execution and marketing of the idea which helps a product become successful. Jobs will be remembered by in history as one of the greatest marketing geniuses who was able to translate ideas and innovations into products which delighted the customers.
Job’s arrogance and low emotional quotient led to his expelling from the company he founded. This whole experience has transformed Jobs making him more humble and enabled him to reinvent himself. Jobs used this down time to infuse his energy and creativity in building Pixar, an animation company making it a very successful venture. Eventually, Jobs was recalled to head up Apple and reverse its fortunes. Once he took reins of the Apple, Jobs unleashed his creative energies bringing out runaway successes like I Pad, iPhone, and iPod making Apple one of the most valuable companies in terms of market capitalization.
The book throws light on Jobs’ approach to strategy and innovation. His approach to introducing and marketing a new product is very intuitive and not based on involved market research. He strongly believed that you should figure out what the customer wants and create the wow factor. Walter Isaacson’s book will be a great read for all management graduates, managers and product innovators to get an insight into one of the most enigmatic and creative personalities in the business world. His approach to product development, design, and marketing are purely intuitive and defy all conventional theories of management. His obsession for perfection, applied imagination, and innovation serves as a great case study for future managers and entrepreneurs.