Thoughts on “Steve Jobs: A Biography” by Walter Isaacson

Over the span of 4 months, I have had a love affair with a man and his story, his history. I have finally finished my persistent, drawn-out lengthy process of half book reading and half audio-book listening of Steve Jobs: A Biography by Walter Isaacson. I have picked up, dropped off, purchased, returned, shelved, downloaded, deleted, borrowed, re-borrowed, to have been ultimately drawn in, seduced from the grave, by Steve Jobs and his infamous ‘reality distortion field’ (his ability to manipulate, motivate, and magnetize anyone to his ideas). Although the journey was attractively arduous, his 656 page biography was absolutely brilliant and worth every page.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. Reading about Apple almost every day has kept the doctor away, but has also kept me at bay. It has broadened my mind on things once small and microscopic. It has also narrowed my thinking on things that were once ambiguous and largely uncertain.  It has given me ideas, confirmations, insights, brewed thoughts, and motivated me to rethink things pertaining to the foundational areas of career, relationships, lifestyle, and life. Below I share with you a mish mash integration of Steve Jobs’ quotes, sayings, philosophies, and how I have perceived them.

“Know thyself”. This life mantra escapes many people not because they are not in tune with who they are, but simply because they choose not to act on it. Knowing something is one thing, but acting on it is another. As it pertains to Jobs’ life, it should more clearly read, “know thyself AND be thyself”. Jobs took the time to learn about himself. He took calligraphy courses in university, he experimented with diets and fasting, he settled on a vegan diet until his death, he practiced meditation, and he used walking long distances for exercise. He surrounded himself with people who believed in what he believed. He paved his own lifestyle path and stuck to it. At a young age, he developed lifestyle habits that would normally take a lifetime to master, which provided him with wisdom and maturity well beyond his age.

Steve Jobs committed himself to years of Zen training which gave him the ability to focus and filter out distractions. It honed his appreciation for intuition. Some people thought that Jobs was merciless, heartless, and ruthless. To Jobs’ defense, Isaacson says Jobs did not lack emotional intuition and empathy, he knew what he was doing, he selfishly knew that he could not do what he did without doing it the way he did. His attitude served a purpose. It made him effective at enforcing change. It made people do things they never thought possible, and ultimately enabled him to do things he never thought possible.  Jobs always believed that intuition is more powerful than intellect. Jobs was a proponent of intuition, whereby instinctive feeling comes before conscious reasoning. This belief in intuition led his company to hold the goal of creating products over creating profits. Jobs makes it clear that Apple’s success over Microsoft is due to this prioritization. Without a doubt, Apple has integrated the beauty of art and the innovation of technology, and from it, has created a philosophy and mission that all companies should strive for.

‘Think Different’. Jobs believed in balance, but not the kind of balance that comes to mind. Jobs believed inIntegration, in other words, balance 2.0. For example, he never saw two different things working beside each other; he only saw two different things working WITH each other. He lived in a world where form meets function, where the outsides look as good as the insides, where software integrates with hardware, where design meets engineering, where art meets technology, where humanities meets science, where emotion meets logic. Jobs was inspired by the fact that Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo were as much scientists as they were artists. Uniquely, Jobs was a big picture thinker and yet equally, had an eye for the smallest details. This made him a genius in the world of business and technology, and a magician in the world of art and design: a CEO 2.0 of our time.

Steve Jobs dishes out his own contribution to his biographical legacy in the last chapter, hence why it is one of my favorites.

I’ve strung many of his life lessons together in point form as they are simple, strong, and self-serving.

Business lessons:

  • Products over profits mentality: the products should always be the motivation
  • There’s no such thing as a dumb user, there are only dumb products
  • Follow the “Less but better” philosophy by Dieter Rams from Braun
  • You always have to keep pushing to innovate – evolve, refine your art, keep moving
  • Value the designers and product engineers first, then the salesmen
  • People do not know what they want, until you put it in front of them
  • No B players, only A players.
  • Don’t just build a company, build a LASTING company
  • A good boss is an honest boss, brutally honest
  • Honesty is responsibility

Life lessons:

  • “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying” – Bob Dylan
  • If you are not busy surviving, you will die being busy
  • Sometimes it’s nice to be in the hands of a control freak
  • Add to the flow of life, don’t subtract
  • Jobs believed that there must be more to our existence than meets the eye, there must be a deeper purpose for us humans to accumulate and acquire knowledge and wisdom over a life time. Jobs thought it would be unfortunate if it were as simple as on/off switches…when you’re alive, you’re on, when you’re dead, you’re off. He recalled that’s maybe why he never had on/off switches on his products.
  • Shake off the erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just going to live in it. Instead, embrace it, change it, improve it, and make your mark upon it.