iCon – Steve Jobs biography

I don’t make a great secret of the fact that I’m not much of an Apple fan – I can appreciate the great design in the products but I’ve just never had a desire or need to actually buy any (apart from the iPod sock, and that was actually a freebie from Jason) – and the whole religious fervour thing that tends to attach itself to Apple stuff has a tendency to put me off.

Just before going on holiday, though, I was book-shopping on Amazon (it’s the only time I’ll ever plough through a series of books without taking weeks & weeks), and decided to grab the unathorised biography of Steve Jobs, iCon Steve Jobs: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business.

Having read the first few pages, I was half expecting the book to be a sycophant’s 360 page eulogy as to how wonderful Jobs is, but was pleasingly set straight after a chapter or two. The picture that the whole book paints is that, like many successful and distinctive people, Jobs is a flawed diamond – undeniably talented and possessing of an ability to energise teams of people to do things they wouldn’t do for anyone else (characterised by the now-famous “Reality Distortion Field” said to surround him).

Like other successful IT folk (Bill Gates maybe the most well known example), Steve combined a mixture of foresight (which could be seen as equally gifted and delusional for the time) which good luck (being in the right place at the right time), and managed to hang on for the ride enough to make it very successful.

It’s interesting to note that when Jobs was essentially kicked out of Apple, he went on to a series of other ventures which very nearly went badly wrong – NeXT was a hardware flop but the OS that they built paved the way for his return to Apple, and Pixar (which he picked up as an already-going concern) was seen by him as a way to sell high-end graphics computers (without apparently cottoning on to the potential of the animations they were producing, which went on to make the company billions).

One thing that characterises Jobs however, and I think is also true of Microsoft in general, is that failure is accepted as an occupational hazard and as long as some lesson is taken from the failure, it isn’t the end of the world. Steve proved this by coming back to Apple and turning the company around – though Gil Amelio might have some words to say about how the recovery in Apple’s fortunes had a lot to do with the groundwork that he had done beforehand, and that Steve happened to come back at the right time. Whatever, it’s hard to deny that had Apple without Steve might not have survived at all, and it’s a more interesting world with companies like Apple still flourishing in it.

The book finishes up before Apple’s move to Intel CPUs for the Mac lines, before the launch of the iPod Nano (which is surely the most innovative & successful of the iPods so far) and obviously before the announcement of the iPhone. It would be interesting to read a future edition of the book which looks back on the success (or otherwise?) of these strategies in years to come. All in, well worth a read, especially if you (like me) are interested in the history of our industry.

NB: Geek in Disguise, Steve Clayton, wrote about the “D Conference” this week, where Gates & Jobs will jointly appear for the first time in a long time. Now that’d be worth seeing…

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