The Book of Jobs
I ordered "the book" from Amazon and it arrived, belatedly, on Monday afternoon. I read the introduction and knew I was going to love it. Aw heck, I knew I was going to love it before I read a word, because I like business books, I like biographies, and I love Apple. But reading Walter Isaacson's writing in that introduction convinced me that I was going to enjoy it more than most any other, and I was right.
So I heartily recommend "Steve Jobs", even more so after reading it because it lives up to the promise, particularly for people who know about and have followed the company for all these years. Even Mrs. Goofy, for whom things computer are mysterious if useful, even at times baffling, read the introduction and tells me she wants to read it too. I wonder if she will enjoy plowing through the business minutiae, but I am not likely to dissuade her attempt. Isaacson's prose flows, and there is never a moment of awkward writing or a place where I stopped and wondered "Now why did he ever use that word?"
The book is nearly 600 pages, yet there is a ton of stuff left out; if you don't believe me, ask Wikipedia to walk you through every iteration of OS 7 and see how much there is that nobody really cares about. But nearly everything you do care about is in here: the beginnings, the break-up, the comeback, the products, the future, the family, the sordid and the glorious. The well known "reality distortion field" comes up again and again, as does early Jobs' refuse to bath or use deodorant, as does his tendency to assume ownership of others' ideas, as does his habit of declaring something "great" or "crap", sometimes the same thing on the same day.
That he was a prickly manager and odd in other ways takes nothing away from his genius or accomplishments, indeed, the story rings true at every turn; it is not a sycophant's homage but a reporter's honest attempt to lay out Jobs' life and the Apple story in meticulous detail, and it succeeds.
Which is not to say there aren't a few bumps here or there. John Sculley comes in for his rightful trashing, but he's in the midst of destroying the company, and he's not mentioned again for three chapters, when suddenly we learn that he's been replaced by Michael Spindler, who is a bozo, (who is suddenly replaced by Gil Amelio, who is an even bigger bozo.) Little of the behind the scenes political machinations are revealed, although one which is (and is probably the best) is the way Jobs is invited back into the company by Amelio via the purchase of NeXT as "an adviser", and Steve quickly convinces the board to oust Amelio, and even more shortly tells the entire board (with one exception) they have to resign, en masse, and they do. Talk about chutzpah!
Anyway, the post is titled "Nuggets", and I marked some of them for display here. I will try to stay within the bounds of the copyright gods by quoting only a few short passages from this long and enjoyable book:
When life hands you lemons, make lemonade: The music companies were reluctant to license someone else to distribute their music, but they fought among themselves, too, debuting proprietary, competing and incompatible systems which were complicated, incomplete, and (to coin the phrase) verklempt at birth. Jobs used the Mac's small market share as a plus, instead of a negative:
I've never spent so much of my time trying to convince people to do the right thing for themselves," he recalled. Because the companies were worried about the pricing model and unbundling of albums, Jobs pitched that his new service would be only on the Macintosh a mere 5% if the market. They could try the idea with little risk. "We used our small market share to our advantage bt arguing that if the store turned out to be destructive it wouldn't destroy the entire universe," he recalled
(Of course after just a few months he went back and renegotiated the contracts to include Windows machines, and more than one record company executive felt a bit abused. Oh well.)
On the concept for the stores, even as Gateway and other computer retailers were crashing:
The days of the Byte Shop were over. Industry sales were shifting from local computer specialty shops to megachains and big box stores, where most clerks had neither the knowledge nor the incentive to explain the distinctive nature of Apple products." ...
There were no tech stores in the mall, and [Ron] Johnson [VP Merchandising for Target] explained why. The conventional wisdom was that a consumer, when making a major and infrequent purchase such as a computer, would be willing to drive to a less convenient location where the rent would be cheaper. Jobs disagreed. Apple stores should be in malls and on Main Streets--in areas with a lot of foot traffic, no matter how expensive. "We may not be able to get them to drive ten miles to check out our products, but we can get them to walk ten feet," he said.
On the (secretive) design process:
The design studio where Jony Ives reigns, on the ground floor of Two Infinite Loop on the Apple campus, is shielded by tinted windows and a heavy clad, locked door. Just inside is a glass-booth reception desk where two assistants guard access. Even high-level Apple employees are not allowed in without special permission...
Ive described the usual process: "This great room is the one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in he will sit at one of these tables. If we're working on a new iPhone, for example, he might grab a stool and start playing with different models and feeling them in his hands, remarking on which ones he likes best. Then he will look at the other tables, just him and me, to see where all the other products are heading. ... Looking at the models on these tables, he can see the future for the next three years.
On why it's good to have cash in your pocket:
Jobs began pushing for a portable music player in the fall of 2006, but Rubinstein responded that the necessary components weren't available yet. He asked Jobs to wait. ...
At the end of a routine meeting with Toshiba, the engineers mentioned a new product they had in the lab that would be ready by that June. It was a tiny, 1.8 inch disk drive that would hold five gigabytes of storage (about a thousand songs), but they were not sure what to do with it....
"I know how to do it now," Rubinstein told Jobs. "All I need is a $10 million check." Jobs immediately authorized it."
And finally, if I'm not pushing my luck too much, how about a memo from Bill Gates, on the debut of the iTunes store. Microsoft, of course, already had MSN, so delivering content online should have been easy, right? At 10:46 that night, Gates sent a memo:
Subject: Apple's Jobs again
Steve Jobs ability to focus in on a few things that count, get people who get user interface right, and market things as revolutionary are amazing things." He expressed surprise that Jobs had been able to convince the music companies to go along with his store. "This is very strange to me. The music companies' own operations offer a service that is truly unfriendly to the user. Somehow they decide to give Apple the ability to do something pretty good." ...
I am not saying this strangeness means we messed up-at least if we did, so did Real and Pressplay and MusicNet and basically everyone else," he wrote. "Now that Jobs has done it we need to move fast to get something where the user interface and Rights are as good. I think we need some plan to prove that, even though Jobs has us a bit flat footed again, we can move quick and both match and do stuff better".
I would love to quote more, but I dare not. One tidbit I found fascinating was that when Steve came back, he didn't really know what to do, or at least didn't let on to some of his closest confidants who didn't see the path eventually taken. On a walk around his neighborhood, talking with Mike Markkula, early angel investor, former Apple CEO, a long time friend and about-to-be bounced Board Member, Markkula articulated the strategy. He said that Hewlett Packard started in a garage making audio oscillators, but hadn't stopped there, and went on to manufacture calculators, then computers and printers and a plethora of other things. Markkula said, and Jobs acknowledged that the PC business was in Microsoft's pocket, and Apple wouldn't beat them at that game, so they should look elsewhere. And so while Jobs first moves were in the OS, jellybean colored Mac cases and the like, he was formulating the strategy of "other", the famous realization of "Think Different", and through it a strategic path which nurtured the Apple brand and polished it ever more brightly, climbing through the litany of Apple products the world has come to know over the past decade.
It's a great book. I recommend it highly. Spend the $17, you won't regret it.