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What We Can Learn From Reading Steve Jobs' Biography


Steve Jobs' Path: Winning, Failing, Leaving, Returning, and Winning Again

Winning: Steve Jobs' first win was when he and Steve Wozniak sold about 50 computers to a computer shop called Byte Shop, which basically funded the Apple venture and gave him his first taste of a win at business. Knowing this story from Isaacson's book on Jobs made me think that perhaps all successful entrepreneurs needed their first 'win' - a foretaste of what winning in the business world looks like. Having that confidence early on serves as a foundation for future success.

Steve Jobs brought John Sculley to Apple about 8 years after the company started. He needed someone who was a proven winner at business. What other articles online will not tell you, is that Steve Jobs valued John Sculley as a dear friend. But they were vastly different people. Nonetheless, as Isaacson put it, Steve and John would have these long talks, and they had one, prior to John Sculley leaving Pepsi and joining Apple in 1983. It was in that long talk where the famous question 'Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?' was uttered.

Failing: It's not mentioned that much when people talk about Steve Jobs' legacy with Apple, but Steve had a monumental failure when launching the Lisa and Apple II. While these two products where great consumer electronics for their time, the sales numbers did not show up. And Steve Jobs had already paid for so much advertising. All this made a very good case when John Sculley made the Apple board choose between him or Steve Jobs. Before Jobs was ousted from Apple, he had a showdown with Sculley at an Apple conference room with the board. But it wasn't much of a contest because it was already quite decided beforehand that Steve will leave his top position and become 'chairman' - a position giving him no executive control at Apple.

Leaving: People don't mention it all much, but Steve Jobs leaving Apple was a good thing for him and for Apple. For him, it was an opportunity to become great again, to prove himself once again. As CEO of Pixar, he steered the company to great feats, with the monumental successes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2. Steve would also play a big role in Disney acquiring Pixar in 2006. His success as CEO of NeXT wasn't comparable to what he led Pixar to accomplish, but Apple eventually bought NeXT in 1996.

Returning: On his return to Apple, John Sculley was long gone, and it was Amelio who was CEO of Apple, trying to save the company from ruin. And what better way to save the company than bring back the lost founder, Steve Jobs? Before Steve Jobs returned to Apple, it became an enterprise that did not do a good job in focusing its product lines. Apple back then was so unfocused that it even released its own line of printers. With Steve returning, he focused the products into four quadrants - Desktop, Portable, Consumer and Professional. Such product quadrant continues today with the iPhone, iPad & iPad Pro, iMac and MacBook. By simplifying Apple's products and by being focused into each one, he paved the way for Apple's new generation of success.

Winning: Steve Jobs was winning again. He was winning back in the 80's with the pioneer Apple computers and with a legendary advertisement. With his return, he started winning again with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. All three products even our grandparents are aware of - because these products truly revolutionized consumer electronics in our age.

Jobs Ousted From Apple: A Closer Look

Steve Jobs' getting ousted from Apple is a good lesson of failure. I think this was one of my favorite portions of Isaacson's book on Jobs. It's a perfect example of a real-life lesson that even the greatest people in the world can make the greatest of mistakes. It's easy to say that he was betrayed by his friend John Sculley, but he really was still not the Steve Jobs that made Apple legendary. Before Jobs left Apple in 1985, he still had yet to develop the real leadership skills he would gain from steering a successful animation studio in Pixar and from launching from the ground-up a computer hardware company called NeXT.

When he left Apple he gained leadership experience and was refreshed on what success looked like. The story behind Jobs' ouster at Apple was more than just a simple power struggle. Yes, Isaacson does reveal that John Sculley was talking to company employees and higher-ups about Steve Jobs behind his back, but to say that this was the sole reason why the Apple board 'fired' him would tell an incomplete story.

It is clear from Isaacson's recount of this that it also had to do with Jobs' leadership incompetence at the time. Here was a guy who was willing to burn company cash just to launch something 'perfect.' He was spending so much on advertising and he was also delaying the release of a product by so long. Such principles if applied today go against the 'Lean Startup' principles and would surely lead a company to bankruptcy.

Steve Jobs Was a 'Product Person'

Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs shows a portrait of a 'product person.' Apple's legendary design studio, where prototypes of their famous products like the iPhone and iPad sit on a bar cloaked with black cloth, show how much Apple as a company reflect Steve Jobs' values of being product-oriented. Throughout Jobs' tenure with Apple - pre-ouster and returning days - he worked closely with the product guys. And this really showed when he developed a close relationship with chief designer Jony Ive, as well as elevating the Industrial Design (ID) Team at Apple to a very high level.

The best way to describe being a 'Product Person' is by contrasting it with a person like Tim Cook, whom, while Jobs endorsed for the CEO position shortly before his death, was technically not a product person. Instead, Tim Cook was a day-to-day operations guy who made Apple profitable, streamlined business operations by closing down warehouses and made Apple efficient. He created value in that way.

Steve Jobs on the other hand, is easy to compare with Apple's former head of product design, Jony Ive. Steve Jobs was all about the product - from the way the iPod scroll wheel looked, the user interface, to whether these items fit inside your pocket - he was hyper-meticulous about these matters.

If there's one key takeaway from Isaacson's book on Jobs, it's that Steve Jobs was a person who wanted to release the greatest possible product out there, and as Isaacson put it in the book, 'you could only release a product right once.'


Steve Jobs Had Talented People Around Him

Steve didn't necessarily hire all the talented people around him, but talented people were around him either way. Steve Wozniak can be said to be the one of the first talented people or 'A player' as Isaacson referred to it in the book, whom Jobs worked with. But it really started with his adoptive father, who was the first real talented person whom Jobs was exposed to. Paul Jobs taught Steve the importance of making sure that even the parts of products which couldn't be seen (like the back of a wooden cabinet) were designed with meticulous care, because that's just what good designers did.

Throughout Steve Jobs' life, he really was around talented people. He had a great personal relationship with Larry Ellison, the Chairman of Oracle and one of the richest people on earth.

He didn't even hire Jony Ive - Jony was hired before he returned to Apple. Kahney's book on Jony Ive is also a very interesting read. While it focuses on Jony Ive's origins and the products Apple released all the time he was in there, it shows how Jony Ive and Steve Jobs gravitated towards each other, being talented people in their own fields. Jony Ive was already one of the most talented designers in the world before joining Apple, winning multiple awards even before coming on board.

Jobs did hire Tim Cook. He hired him shortly after he returned to Apple. Tim Cook was another talented 'A player' whom Jobs sought after when he returned. Tim Cook is a model for all operations managers in the world. People don't give Cook enough credit, but because of his efficient management, Apple has now become the most profitable company in the world.

Where Steve Jobs Left Us and Where We Are Now

Watching Steve Jobs' final keynote speech at MacWorld can bring tears to your eyes. As you watch the video you just know that by his speaking, he still had a lot to give. And yet looking at his figure, you'd see the physical signs that this was a man struggling to survive. In his final keynote address, you can sort of see a snapshot of his accomplishments and how far Apple had come as a technology company.

So where did Steve Jobs really leave us, and how far had Apple come?

  • The iPod revolutionized consumer electronics. It can be said to be the predecessor of the modern smartphone.
  • The MacBook made laptops sexy. Laptops where not so friendly back in the 90's.
  • iTunes changed the way we buy music. The AppStore launched a new industry on its own.

All this, and much, much more. Look all around you and you see Steve Jobs' legacy.

Steve Jobs was not just about introducing fancy new tech that looked cool and worked cool. For him, it was about the intersection of art and technology. Unlike most of the people we know in tech today, Steve had a spiritual connection with technology.

A person looking at Apple and its products from afar can easily say that Apple likes to do things minimalist, or that it likes using white or gray on its products. But to subscribe to that line of thinking would be wrong. Before I read Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, I too felt victim to looking at Apple on a surface level. I didn't appreciate Jobs' actual contribution to technology.

His real contribution was infusing art and soul into technology. He made consumer electronics 'for' the consumer.

And that's why I highly recommend reading Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs - it's a book everyone should read.

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