In the biography of Steve Jobs titled Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson provides an in depth look at the Apple co-founder and former figurehead, using insights gathered from over forty interviews with Steve, himself, and countless others with the people that knew him best. The book begins with the story of Steve’s childhood (largely focusing on his adoption), in what seems to be Issacson’s attempt to understand the roots of Steve’s psyche and his very irritable and moody personality later in his career. The story accelerates into his high school years and then his brief stint in college, where Jobs shows uncanny intelligence mixed with a sometimes destructive desire for rebellion and independence. During these years, Steve befriends Steve Wozniak and Apple is born, founded on Wozniak’s engineering genius and Jobs’s knack for business and design.
Isaacson continues to discuss the journey of Apple, under the unofficial leadership of Jobs and his infamous “reality distortion field,” leading to the release of the Apple I, Apple II, and the Macintosh. Although these computers were not total hits, they introduced the world to the Apple brand and its emphasis on design, simplicity, and marketing. After numerous conflicts between colleagues, Steve is ousted from Apple by the board. He leaves Apple and starts NeXT, another computer and software company. Although NeXT is mostly a flop, during this time, Steve also joins Pixar to serve as the CEO, where revolutionary animated films, such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, and Finding Nemo, were developed during his time there.
In the late 1990’s, Apple is failing and needs a change, so the board calls on Steve Jobs to make his return. With Jobs back at the helm for Apple, changes start to be made. He emphasizes sleek, simple design even more and begins focusing all of Apple on a few highly integrated products, leading to the releases of the iMac, glass Apple stores, iPod, and iTunes. After incredible success from the iPod, Apple is thriving. Soon after, Apple releases the iPhone and the iPad to even more fanfare. With Steve as its very attentive, detailed-oriented leader, the company finds its home at the center of innovation and technology. However, Steve’s personal health is another story, as he begins his struggle with cancer. Steve, now married with four kids, begins to focus on his health and spending time with his family and friends, something he often overlooked throughout his career. He tries to maintain his role at Apple, but his third round of health issues from cancer are too much, so he eventually resigns. In October of 2011, Steve passes away. His legacy lives on in his family and friends and in Apple, a company he founded and eventually led to its place at the crossroads of humanities and technology.
In his return to Apple after stints at NeXT and Pixar, Steve Jobs brought a new philosophy — a centralized focus on only a few core, highly integrated products. In addition, Steve began to place an uncommon emphasis on design and simplicity, two ideals that make up the core identity of Apple. In 1997, Apple released a new marketing campaign focusing on brand image (view video campaign here). The campaign, centered around the phrase “Think Different,” featured portraits of famous “crazy ones” in history who moved the world forward through innovation, such as Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Thomas Edison, Muhammad Ali, and Amelia Earhart. In the years following this famous campaign, Apple really lived up to their branding. For one, Steve Jobs and Apple revolutionized music consumption and the music industry with the iPod and the iTunes Store. The iPhone followed, welcoming the age of the smartphone, along with the App Store, introducing a whole new creative platform for developers. Jobs and Apple then added the iPad, turning the computer into a handheld device, and the iCloud, fully achieving Steve’s visionary desire to connect all devices seamlessly. During all this time, Steve revolutionized Apple’s interactions with customers by planning and launching Apple Stores all over the country. The greatness of Steve Jobs and Apple lies in its ability to “Think Different.” Apple, from its founding, worked to disrupt and innovate, moving where no one had gone before. As Steve Jobs once said, “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” In this way, Apple has been able to give people products and abilities they didn’t even know they wanted or needed. In this way, Apple was able to “Think Different,” and success followed.
In today’s world, innovations are happening everywhere. Technological innovations are driving the world forward everyday, and often these innovations are bringing technology into our lives that we never saw coming. In the majority of cases, the most successful products are the ones that totally disrupt and revolutionize an industry. The most successful people behind these products are the ones who had the courage to “Think Different,” and turn their idea into a reality. On our Tech Trek to New York City in October, we will be seeing a variety of companies, from startups to midsize corporations, all founded on an idea that they think is revolutionary. We have the opportunity to see what strategies have been most effective in growing these ideas into realities and what failures have been most formative. Hopefully, we can learn from the people we meet and the stories we hear to be best suited to nurture our own ideas in the future. No matter who we learn it from — whether it’s mentors we meet on Tech Trek East or Steve Jobs — we must remember to always have the courage to “Think Different.” As Jobs said, “…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”
I would definitely recommend Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Not only does Isaacson provide an in depth look into one of the most important people and companies in technology, but he does it in an almost informal way that is easy and entertaining to read. The stories of the personal life of Steve Jobs are perfectly mixed with those of his career, along with stories of the founding and growth of Apple. While the reader watches Steve develop into an accomplished business leader, he/she also witnesses the trials and tribulations of one the greatest technology companies in history. Isaacson provides a very honest look at Steve Jobs, whose success in business and technology far surpassed his achievements in his personal life, especially his relationships with his friends and family. This view of Steve Jobs, a hero of technological innovation, as a flawed man reminds the reader that he was just as human as the rest of us. I think it is in this informal, honest biography that Isaacson’s Steve Jobs receives my recommendation.