Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve-Jobs-by-Walter-Isaacson-300x234NOTE: This was from my old A&L Enterprises blog – but I thought it was interesting…

I recently finished reading the book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson after checking it out from the library.  I’ve been wanting to read this book for some time – as Steve Jobs is such an interesting figure.  He had a profound impact on technology and how we use it.

Reading this book for me was a bit of journey into my past by remembering the technology.  I remember playing Oregon Trail on an Apple II (e I think) in Elementary School [Sidebar – I got distracted from writing this post by playing that game in an emulator.  I’m not sure I ever won at school either..]

I was born in 1973 so I remember a lot of the technology of early PCs – having experienced many of them. Despite the fact I grew up with this technology I still find it hard to believe how limited it was compared to what we have today.  In this day and age computers have become more of a commodity and not a special thing.  But back then, any computer was a work of art and full of amazing technology to accomplish what it did.

It is the character of Steve Jobs that is the most interesting part of this book.  He was a very unique individual – almost a force of nature.  He had such an impact on the technology we use today – not just our computers but on so much consumer technology.  He had a vision for what we needed before we knew it – an instinct that defied logic.  He made possible what many thought was impossible – and we all benefited from it.

That said – would I want to be him?  No – he’s not my role model as a person.  I don’t think I would want to work for him either – given how he treated people.  In fairness he was able to get people to do more than what they thought they could do – to perform at a high level.  I’m sure there are many people who still remember him fondly as a boss and as a person – but many others do not.  Personally I couldn’t treat people the way he did – it’s just not who I am.

I think “innovative” people like him are often over focused on their vision for the future to the point they forget there are real people are around them.  In Steve’s case it was clear that he had what they call a “Reality Distortion Field” – his own view of reality.  In some cases it worked for him – making things happen that seem impossible.  In other cases reality caught up with him and with others around him – often with tragic consequences.

Maybe one of the things he did well was take technology and make it usable for “normal” people.  What often happens with technology is that it’s made by “geeks” – who don’t think like normal people.  Therefore what comes out is designed to work they way a “geek” would want it – which often is not what a normal person would want.  A “geek” designs for edge cases (rare but difficult cases) without putting full effort into the common cases.

Steve made technology elegant and usable – attractive to “normal” people.  He made the concept of a Graphical Interface possible on computers.  He made a music player that transformed the music industry  – one that made others look weak (oh – and being able to buy music online).  He ushered in a mobile computing era – with the iPhone taking the world by storm.  He even finally designed a computing tablet that really worked – after so many others failed.

The world will miss his innovation – his focus on design and usability – not just capability.

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