Why did Apple think different?
Because, Steve Jobs said while introducing the iPad, the Mac maker was never just a tech company.
“The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts,” he said.
Jobs’ lifelong interest in the humanities gave Apple a human touch.
By combining tech and the liberal arts, Jobs said that Apple was able to “to make extremely advanced products from a technology point of view, but also have them be intuitive, easy-to-use, fun-to-use, so that they really fit the users.”
Jobs arrived at that perspective through a lifetime of reading, as reviewed in Walter Isaacson’s biography and other places. We’ve put together a list of the books that most affected him.
Jobs really began his literary bent in the last two years of high school.
'I started to listen to music a whole lot,' he tells Isaacson, 'and I started to read more outside of just science and technology -- Shakespeare, Plato. I loved 'King Lear.''
The tragedy may have provided a cautionary tale to a young Jobs, since it's the story of an aged monarch going crazy trying to divide up his kingdom.
''King Lear' offers a vivid depiction of what can go wrong if you lose your grip on your empire, a story surely fascinating to any aspiring CEO,' says Daniel Smith, author of 'How to Think Like Steve Jobs.'
Another epic story coloured Jobs' outlook in his adolescence: 'Moby Dick,' the deeply American novel by Herman Melville.
Isaacson draws a connection between Captain Ahab, who's one of the most driven and willful characters in literature, and Jobs.
Ahab, like Jobs, did lots of his learning from direct experience, rather than relying on institutions.
'I prospectively ascribe all the honour and the glory to whaling,' the captain writes early in the story, 'for a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.'
But the intellectual flowering that Jobs had in late high school wasn't confined to hard-charging megalomaniacs -- he also discovered a love for verse, particularly Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
'How To Think Like Steve Jobs' author Daniel Smith says that Thomas' poems 'drew him in with its striking new forms and unerringly popular touch.'
'Do not go gentle' became a reported favourite:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
In late 1972, Jobs had just started at Reed College, an elite liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon. He started doing lots of LSD and reading lots of books about spirituality.
'Be Here Now,' a guide to meditation by Ram Dass, affected Jobs greatly. Born Richard Alpert, the book is an account of Dass' encounters with South Asian metaphysics:
Now, though I am a beginner on the path, I have returned to the West for a time to work out karma or unfulfilled commitment. Part of this commitment is to share what I have learned with those of you who are on a similar journey ... Each of us finds his unique vehicle for sharing with others his bit of wisdom.
For me, this story is but a vehicle for sharing with you the true message, the living faith in what is possible.
'It was profound,' Jobs said. 'It transformed me and many of my friends.'
In that first year at Reed, Jobs also read 'Diet for a Small Planet,' a book about protein-rich vegetarianism that went on to sell three million copies.
It was a breakthrough.
'That's when I pretty much swore off meat for good,' Jobs told Isaacson.
The book had another effect on Jobs -- it gave him permission to experiment with extreme diets like purging or fasting.
But Jobs' diet grew more adventurous after reading 'Mucusless Diet Healing System' by early 20th-century German dietitian Arnold Ehret, a guy who recommends practices like 'intermittent juice fasting.'
'I got into it in my typical nutso way,' Jobs tells Isaacson.
After getting to know Ehret's work, Jobs became something of a nutritional extremist, subsisting on carrots for weeks at a time -- to the point that his skin reportedly started turning orange.
But don't try this at home: Ashton Kutcher tried the all-fruit diet while prepping for his role as Steve Jobs, and it landed him in the hospital.
Jobs read 'Autobiography of a Yogi' by Indian yoga guru Paramahansa Yogananda when he was in high school.
Then he reread it while he stayed at a guesthouse in the foothills of the Himalayas in India.
There was a copy there of 'Autobiography of a Yogi' in English that a previous traveller had left, and I read it several times, because there was not a lot to do, and I walked around the village to village and recovered from my dysentery.
Unlike the sickness, the book remained a major part of Jobs' life. He reread it every year.
After Jobs got back from India his interest in meditation continued to flourish. This is partly thanks to geography -- 1970s California was the place where Zen Buddhism got its first foothold in America, and Jobs was able to attend classes led by Shunryu Suzuki, the Japanese monk who authored 'Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.'
Like everything else, Jobs went hard into Zen.
'He became really serious and self-important and just generally unbearable,' says Daniel Kottke, his best friend at the time.
'Zen has been a deep influence in my life ever since,' Jobs told Isaacson. 'At one point I was thinking about going to Japan and trying to get into the Eihei-ji monastery, but my spiritual advisor urged me to stay here (in California).'
Apple made a habit of disrupting itself. The iPhone, for instance, had lots of the features of the iconic iPod, thus rendering the music device obsolete.
Jobs was able to see that that cannibalism was a necessary part of growth, thanks to the 'Innovator's Dilemma' by legendary Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen.
The book posits that companies get ruined by their own success, staying committed to a product even after technology (and customers) move on, like Blockbuster did with physical movie rentals.
Jobs made it clear that the same thing wouldn't happen to Apple, as he said in his explanation of why it needed to embrace cloud computing:
It's imporant that we make this transformation, because of what Clayton Christensen calls 'the innovator's dilemma,' where people who invent something are usually the last ones to see past it, and we certainly don't want to be left behind.
For more on Christensen, go here.
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