Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Roger Nesbitt - 12.06.12

I recently read the Steve Jobs biography and although I enjoyed it, I couldn't help feeling that it was as much an Apple Manifesto as a balanced view of the Apple supremos life. The author, Walter Isaacson, seems throughout, to be neatly packaging the life of Jobs and his various business ventures into a neat progression where even missteps somehow become key to the ultimate success of the modern day Apple behemoth.

For me, what seemed to be an overt need to find meaning in his questionable personality traits and sometimes poor business decisions, contributed to making some of the authors conclusions seem plodding and contrived.

Jobs would probably fail the 'blokes I'd have a beer with' test, but I was struck by his vision and the ability to advance his cause through sheer force of will. Those he worked with, found him both inspirational and frightening. To Jobs a product or idea was either "shit or absolutely amazing", and he could change his mind as to which of the two it was, as early as the next day. With his design and product development team he would even use the mantra of designer nightmares, "I don't know what I want but I'll know it when I see it". Yet, despite a process, at times, more exhausting than exhaustive, great products were visualised and produced.

The book offers many interesting insights, and none more so than Jobs' attitude to market research. "I don't do market research and focus groups - the public don't know what they want, was his attitude. Walter Isaacson also writes that “On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”

Jobs was a great lover of the concept of being at the intersection of technology and the humanities and saw the Macintosh and ultimately the Apple corporation as standing at those crossroads. Whether Apple has now become the unwanted traffic monitor of that intersection, is another question. I believe Steve Jobs' greatest achievement was his ability to develop great products by coercing technology to enhance the human experience rather than dictate it.

It is difficult to read the book and feel much warmth for a man who was so careless with personal relationships, but no matter how dogmatic, driven and abrasive, Steve Jobs was clearly a genius. He contributed much to making the use of technology a better experience for us all.

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