Published on: November 3, 2011
This commentary is available both as text and video. The two versions are similar, but not identical. Enjoy either, or both.
Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.
Well, you knew it had to happen - being the complete Apple enthusiast that I am, I was going to read the new Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson sooner rather than later, and report back to you with my impressions.
First of all, it is a terrific read - for a 600-page book, it is breezy and conversational, and makes me want to go back and read the same author’s biography of Benjamin Franklin. It also is a great business book, digging deep into the weeds of Apple’s creation, Jobs’ high points and low points, not mincing words about his character flaws but certainly celebrating his marketing and technological innovations.
Like most people who have spent any time following Apple’s ups and downs over the years, I thought I was pretty well acquainted with the Steve Jobs story, but I found much of the book to be surprising - not least because of all the missteps and misjudgments along the way. Take his purchase of Pixar, for example. Jobs didn;t buy Pixar because he had any great insights into the future of computerized animated films; in fact, producing the short films that turned into feature films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo was just a sideline driven by the passion of a couple of Pixar employees. And the NeXT computer venture that he started after being exiled from Apple was pretty much a failure...though it positioned him for the highly improbably return to power at Apple, which seemed to be on its deathbed.
“Steve Jobs” is a fascinating book, and I’d recommend it almost anyone with even a cursory interest in business and America’s technological renaissance.
I do have to admit, though, that I found the book troubling on some levels. As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs was not a particularly nice guy - he could be brutal to anyone who crossed him, or anyone not as smart as him, or anyone who did not share his vision, or anyone who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t a great father to his three kids, he had some flaws as a husband, and he behaved particularly badly toward the daughter he fathered out of wedlock inn his early twenties. He admits these things, his wife and kids acknowledge these things and, to varying degrees, forgive him ... but somehow that doesn’t make it better. Jobs was a guy who seemed to believe that none of the rules applied to him - from basic social interactions to the need to have a license plate on his car.
The question I keep asking myself is, what price genius? Because I don’t think there is much debate about the fact that Jobs was a visionary and genius, and I suppose that one of the things that allows certain people to see things that nobody else sees is the ability not to think about rules and boundaries and limitations.
Does it have to be that way? In order to drive people and businesses to transcendent achievements, do you have to be a total bastard? (Sorry for the language, but I honestly can’t think of another word that makes the point strongly enough. Actually, I can...but they’re even worse.)
I hope not. I’d like to think that there is room even in the lives of geniuses to be decent people as well as to have the kind of unique vision that can push “the human race forward.” Then again, you look at some of the people from the old “Think Different” ad campaign, which lionized people who Jobs thought of as being “the crazy ones” who change the world, and a lot of those people had messy personal lives. Not all, but many.
In the end, this is what the Steve Jobs biography made me think about. If I had a vision, how far would I go to achieve it? How far could I go? I’m no genius, and I might even be a little vision impaired, but then again I know precisely in my life where I made compromises, where I lived within boundaries, when I did not push forward, when I underachieved. I suspect that most of us could look back on our lives and see the same moments. Steve Jobs seems to have made none of those compromises, and look what he achieved.
One last question: In the end, when he died, was Steve Jobs happy with the choices he made?
I don’t know. But I keep thinking about it.
That’s what is on my mind this morning. As always, I’d like to hear what is on your mind.
- KC's View:
- A brief postscript....
There is a very different view of Steve Jobs in the eulogy delivered at his memorial service by his sister, the novelist Mona Simpson. Rosier, more affectionate ... but certainly worth reading by clicking here.
The eulogy is a remarkable piece of writing, and it stands as a great companion piece to the 2005 commencement address delivered by Jobs at Stanford University, generally considered to be one of the best of that breed ever delivered.