Posted by: John in: Book Review
I’ll be honest — I’m not really an Apple fan. When I was in Junior High my friend David and I would have huge arguments about Macs versus PCs. I do have an iPhone however and honestly think it has made my life better. I’ve never been interested in Apple as a company though, and not at all interested in Steve Jobs as a person. When I got a copy of his biography (more on that at the end) it sat in my “to read” pile for a couple of months. But once I picked it up last week, I couldn’t put it down. There are currently 1,628 reviews on Amazon so I don’t feel obligated to give an in-depth review. But I want to share a few thoughts about how it impacted me personally.
1. Intuition. I was amazed at how Jobs was able to discern what it was the customer wanted and then go for it. Three relevant quotes: “At the end of the presentation someone asked whether he thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”” (p.143). ““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?”” (p. 170). On another occasion: “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!’” (p. 567). I’m not saying that market research should be thrown out the window — but I was impressed at how Jobs could cut through the paralysis that can come come from doing too much of it.
2. PowerPoint Presentations. I use them all the time. Jobs had a different view of PowerPoints – at least in meetings. Isaacson writes, “One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban PowerPoints. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs later recalled. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (p. 337). And again, “Steve prefers to be in the moment, talking things through. He once told me, ‘If you need slides, it shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.'” (p. 387). I still see value in PowerPoint, but it makes me wonder if I am using it as a crutch. Do I know what I’m talking about? (I also appreciated the caveats posted here).
3. Do the impossible. Apple determined that Corning’s Gorilla Glass was needed for the iPhone. Jobs met with Weeks, the head of Corning to discuss it. Isaacson recounts: “Jobs described the type of glass Apple wanted for the iPhone, and Weeks told him that Corning had developed a chemical exchange process in the 1960s that led to what they dubbed “gorilla glass.” It was incredibly strong, but it had never found a market, so Corning quit making it. Jobs said he doubted it was good enough, and he started explaining to Weeks how glass was made. This amused Weeks, who of course knew more than Jobs about that topic. “Can you shut up,” Weeks interjected, “and let me teach you some science?” Jobs was taken aback and fell silent. Weeks went to the whiteboard and gave a tutorial on the chemistry, which involved an ion-exchange process that produced a compression layer on the surface of the glass. This turned Jobs around, and he said he wanted as much gorilla glass as Corning could make within six months. “We don’t have the capacity,” Weeks replied. “None of our plants make the glass now.” “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was good-humored and confident but not used to Jobs’s reality distortion field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but that was a premise that Jobs had repeatedly shown he didn’t accept. He stared at Weeks unblinking. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”” (p.471-472). They did it. Am I reaching for the impossible?
4. Do less, but do it right. Jobs told Larry Page (Google’s cofounder), “What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great” (p. 552). Am I getting distracted by too many things? What are the core areas where I can focus and make a difference
5. Bring your child to work. During the Attenagate scandal, Jobs was called away from a family vacation to figure out how to solve the problem. Isaacson writes “Jobs also decided to bring his son Reed, then a high school senior, back with him from Hawaii. “I’m going to be in meetings 24/7 for probably two days and I want you to be in every single one because you’ll learn more in those two days than you would in two years at business school,” he told him. “You’re going to be in the room with the best people in the world making really tough decisions and get to see how the sausage is made.” Jobs got a little misty-eyed when he recalled the experience. “I would go through that all again just for that opportunity to have him see me at work,”” (p. 521). Enough said.
Now there are lots of things I didn’t like about Jobs. For example, he seemed really mean. But at the end of reading is biography I was inspired. I wanted to be a better person and go out and change the world. I decided that I wanted to buy a copy of this book for several people — My recollection is that I got it on Amazon for a ridiculously low price ($3.00 or so – I can’t imagine why else I would have bought a biography about a person I wasn’t interested in). But when I went to purchase additional copies, I found that not only was the price higher than I thought, but that I never purchased the book from Amazon. That’s the only place I buy books, so now I have a puzzle on my hands … how did I get the book? I’m not sure, but I’m very glad I did!