Management bible?

Jobs way of 'inspiring' people to achieve has become a mantra for some, however, Isaacson feels that some are missing the point somewhat. “People have written about this book being a guide for managers. People tell me, 'I'm like Steve! I push people to perfection. But you don't need to push people to be like Steve, you need know how to be a genius at creating things, not just driving people crazy.”

Isaacson clarified the point again later: “If you are going to do that truly understand what Steve's magic was. It wasn't just barking. It's easy to be a jerk”.

Regarding those who think they can learn management technique from the book, Isaacson points out that: “The book shows that there a number of sides to Steve, this is not Steve Jobs the saint packaged for your emulation, he wasn't a philanthropist, he wasn't concerned about working conditions in China, and that's why the book shows the multiple sides of Steve and why people shouldn't just read it and say this is a recipe for success.”

“There are all sorts of lessons from Steve, but I'll leave you with the one which I think is also the most important. Almost everybody who has spoke in this room from Kepler to Newton has used the phrase: Nature loves simplicity. It's absolutely clear why nature would love simplicity. Einstein said: 'Any damn fool can make a problem more complex, it takes a genius to make it more simple.' Well Steve believed that simplicity was the ultimate sophistication (which is Leonardo Da Vinci line). That simplicity is part of the beauty of a product. That was his way of connecting engineering to beauty. So that everything worked in a magical, simple way. It was almost spiritual for him.”

Isaacson noted that Jobs may have got the idea that things needed to be simple from working on games at Atari, because: “They had to be simple enough that stoned freshmen could play them,” he joked. To illustrate Jobs' quest for simplicity, Isaacson used the example of Jobs questioning the validity of the on-off button on the iPod, and how eventually the team realised: “You don't need an on/off button”.

The on-off button story is pertinent, as all who have finished reading the book will know, as Jobs used the analogy when describing what might happen after he died. “We were talking about spirituality and god and the sense that life is a journey, a spiritual journey. So I said: 'Do you believe in an afterlife, do you believe that there's a god?' and he said: 'I'd love to believe that there is more to this world than what you can see. That there's sort of a spirit that's larger than me and that when you die your spirit actually lives on and that your accumulated experiential wisdom survives'. But then he said: 'There are days when I'm depressed and I think maybe it's just like an on and off switch, you know, click, and you're gone.' And then he gave me that little smile he had and said: 'Maybe that's why I didn't like to put an on/off switch on products'.”

Likeable Jobs?

The second half of the lecture was a discussion between Isaacson and Roger Highfield of the Science Museum Group. Highfield quizzed Isaacson about Jobs personality and specific elements of the biography. Highfield began by highlighting that the biography creates the picture of Jobs as a bully, getting his girlfriend pregnant and denying the child is his, parking in handicapped spaces, he screams at people. Isaacson cut in to point out that this description sounds just like Einstein, “Who also had an illegitimate child that he didn't take responsibility for, and was not great to subordinates”.

Highfield then questioned why Isaacson said he “liked” Jobs. “Like is the most namby-pamby word. It doesn't even begin to explain the emotion you feel”.

“He could be totally charming when he wanted to be, but he was not relaxed. He was the most intense, most emotional person, and I think that I found myself emotionally awed by him. Emotionally inspired by him. But if I could use a hundred adjectives the word 'like' is so namby-pamby...”

Isaacson described how the members of the original Mac team met after Jobs died and as the evening drew to a close they discussed whether they 'liked' Jobs. In each case they said: “No, But...” with a variety of reasons why they admired him. Isaacson said he felt the same about 'liking' Jobs: “No, but I wouldn't have given up for the moment the chance to be in his presence”.

PAGE 1: Why write a biography about Jobs, and the Reality Distortion Field

PAGE 2: Why the Steve Jobs biography isn't a management bible; was Jobs 'likable'?

PAGE 3: Jobs the control freak; front cover of the Steve Jobs biography; personality defects; Apple's new management; Google and Cancer