Before he died, Steve Jobs decided to work with Walter Isaacson on a biography.
Across a two-year period Isaacson did 40 interviews with Jobs. He spoke with Jobs’ family, and co-workers at Apple. The result of those interviews was “Steve Jobs,” a 657 book that became the definitive work on one of history’s greatest businessmen.
While Isaacson’s book was a good read, it felt incomplete. When I read it, I felt like I never learned how Steve Jobs became Steve Jobs.
Now, it looks like we’re going to get a much better book on Jobs that fully examines his career.
That book is called, “Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader.” It is written by former Wall Street Journal/Fortune reporter Brent Schlender and Fast Company editor Rick Tetzeli. They got cooperation from people close to Jobs, and they leaned on Schlender’s decades worth of reporting on Jobs.
Their book is already drawing rave reviews.
“The book is smart, accurate, informative, insightful, and at times, utterly heartbreaking. Schlender and Tetzeli paint a vivid picture of Jobs the man, and also clearly understand the industry in which he worked,” says John Gruber, an Apple writer who understands the company better than any other writer in the world.
Marc Andreessen, the influential venture capitalist, tweeted, “Steve Jobs = the person who most inspires new entrepreneurs. ‘Becoming Steve Jobs’ = the most honest portrait of him.”
We have an advanced copy of the book, but we’ve agreed to not discuss what’s in the book for another week or so. But, after reading the first 150 pages, I can say that the book already has a brilliant insight into why Jobs may have seemed adrift when he was at Apple in his early days. More to come on that in the future.
The Isaacson book was a good read, but it failed to deliver many insights into how Jobs became Jobs.
Jobs in the 80s was impossible. He would berate his colleagues. He would dream big ideas, but failed to deliver them on time or for a reasonable price. While history has been unkind to John Sculley, and the board members of Apple who sidelined Jobs when he was first with the company, Isaacson’s book made their decision seem utterly logical.
After he was booted from Apple, he started another company, NeXT. NeXT only exacerbated the worst aspects of Jobs personality. Before the company even launched, he spent $US100,000 on the logo. He spent big to build a state of the art factory, but the factory was never put to full use.
The end result of all that perfectionism almost nothing. It never had the same impact as Apple. It was saved when Apple bought it for $US429 million.
Though NeXT hadn’t amounted to much, it was a brilliant deal because it brought Jobs back to Apple.
In his second stint at Apple, Jobs managed to deliver an unprecedented string of hit products. First, the iMac, then the iPod, then the iPhone, then the iPad. When he joined Apple, the company was close to shutting down. It needed an investment from Microsoft to stay afloat. By the time Jobs died, Apple’s iPhone business alone was bigger than all of Microsoft.
More important than any single product Jobs released in his second run at Apple was the company he rebuilt. Apple today is as strong as ever, even with Jobs dead. Considering the fact that Jobs was hailed a singular visionary who called all the shots at Apple, the fact that his company is still doing well is a testament to his acumen as a businessman, not just a product visionary.
But, how did this happen? How did Jobs go from being a petulant child in the 80s at Apple, a semi-failure in the 90s at Next, to a genius at Apple in the 2000s?
Isaacson’s book failed to answer that question. And worse, it reinforced the worst perceptions of Jobs. People thought of Jobs as a jerk after reading that book. He seemed impossible to work with. After my wife read the book, she had a negative opinion of Jobs. I remember thinking to myself, “Why would anyone work with this guy?”
I wasn’t the only one that felt slightly underwhelmed by the book.
Jony Ive, Apple’s head of design hated the book. In New Yorker profile, Ive said of the book, “My regard couldn’t be any lower.” He didn’t read the whole book, but the parts he read he disliked, and felt were inaccurate.
Gruber, the influential Apple writer, thought Isaacson’s book was weak. In a review of the book, he wrote: “Isaacson’s book may well be the defining resource for Jobs’s personal life — his childhood, youth, eccentricities, cruelty, temper, and emotional outbursts. But as regards Jobs’s work, Isaacson leaves the reader profoundly and tragically misinformed. Isaacson gives us the story of an arsehole. But the world is full of arseholes. What we need is the story of the one man who spearheaded so many remarkable products and who built an amazing and unique company.”
Well, it looks like we are finally going to get a book that examines the real Steve Jobs. We are going to get a book that explains how Jobs went from being an impetuous jerk to a brilliant leader.