Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 630 pages
Book Review by Ozodi Osuji
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are the face of the computer industry; they did for the electronics industry what Alexander Graham Bell did for telegraph, Thomas Edison did for electricity, John Rockefeller did for petroleum, Henry Ford did for the automobile industry and Boeing and Northrop did for the aviation industry. It seems that when a new industry emerges a few persons go for broke in it, throw their all into it and make it big in it and in popular culture come to represent that industry.
By the early 1970s the computing world was begging for revolution, for transformation from what used to be called computers, behemoths to personal computers. The goal was in the air and young folks all over the country, especially in Northern California, what came to be called the Silicon Valley were tinkering with ways to make computers user friendly.
The United States military had many installations in Northern California, and civilian contractors working for them; many of these folks did computer related work for the military and, as such, the area was awash with computer engineers. These engineers and those around them were acutely aware of what was right and wrong with extant computers. Many of them were tinkering for ways to improve computers (then a computer occupied a whole building and yet the computing power in it is less than in today’s hand held calculator!).
While professional engineers were seeking ways to make computers user friendly, their children in high schools, consumers of electronic gizmos, sought ways to make electronics serve their own needs. All over Northern California secondary schools science geeks and nerds (kids who are socially awkward but good in mathematics and physics) formed electronics clubs working on how to improve on whatever electronic gadget was available in their world. Steve Jobs was one such secondary school student who jumped unto the electronics clubs bandwagon and toyed with everything electronics.
Steve Jobs was an adopted child. His actual parents were a strange mix. The biological father was from Syria, a twenty three year old graduate student in political science at an American university (he eventually had PhD); his mother, an American of German decent was also a twenty three year old graduate student. When she got pregnant both of them decided that they were not in a position to take care of a child and put him up for adoption. A Northern California couple adopted the child and raised him as their own son.
The adopting parents were Paul Jobs, an American of German background and his Armenian-American wife. He had served in the US Coast Guard as a machinist and upon discharge worked as a machinist in Northern California. He got married in the early 1950s. He and his wife could not have children by their selves and decided to adopt children. They adopted Steven and a girl and gave both a decent middle class upbringing.
Steven was born in 1955. From all available evidence he was given proper upbringing. His father did his best to provide him with material comfort (he supplemented his meager income by working as a mechanic; he bought used cars, fixed them in his garage and sold them for profit; naturally, Steve watched his old man repair cars and learned what he could about car repairing).
Steve was a high school geek; his teachers considered him gifted and jumped him two classes ahead of where he should be. He joined electronics clubs.
Upon graduation from high school he could have gone to any first rate university in the country, including his neighborhood schools, Stanford University and Berkeley (University of California). Instead, he chose to attend a small liberal arts college at Portland, Oregon, Reeds College. His father had saved up for his college tuition and although he was not rich was willing to pay his expensive school fees. Steve, apparently, felt that his working class father had no business shelling out the enormous fees that Reed College charged (it charged more than some Ivy League Universities). Steve was also not sure that he wanted to be at college and did not really know what to study. Thus, he chose to drop out.
He dropped out in a funny sort of way; he arranged with the college to allow him to go to classes and monitor courses without taking examinations and getting grades. This way he attended whatever classes he fancied. Let us then say that he was college educated even though he did not have degrees to prove it.
While in Portland, he frequented Zen Buddhist lectures (and smoked marijuana and dropped acid, LSD drug). He changed his life style to suit Buddhism’s meditative culture. He later went to India for seven months to study Buddhism and Hinduism (why is it that gifted science students often gravitate to Hinduism and Buddhism instead of Christianity and Islam?).
Steve returned to living with his parents in Northern California. He had to have a job so one day he walked to the corporate offices of Atari, one of the era’s electronic giants. He was barefooted and since he did not like taking shower more than once a week he smelled badly. The receptionist tried to shoo him out of the office but he persisted in asking to see the president. Eventually, he was shown the president and he offered his services; he convinced the guy that his electronic skills could enable the company to improve its games and make profits. Despite Steve’s unbearable smells the president of Atari decided to take a bet on him and hired him on.
Steve’s fellow workers could not stand his smell and unkempt appearance, so, Atari assigned him to the night shift (graveyard) where he worked by his self. He delivered on his promise and helped Atari to do better what it did best.
In the meantime, Steve hooked up with a former high school buddy, Steve Wozniak, who was now attending Berkeley (he, too, eventually dropped out of college...what is up with electronics geeks that they drop out of college, Bill Gates did the same).
Wozniak was the better electronics wizard of the pair. In the evenings, the two friends repaired to Steve Jobs’ father’s garage and toyed with electronics (several kids were doing the same thing in 1975). Wozniak wrote the programs and Jobs produced the hardware. In 1976 they came up with Apple computer 1.
So, now, you have a personal computer, eh? What are you going to do with it, manufacture it, and sell it? It is here that men are separated from boys.
Wozniak was a boy geek who wrote software but had no business skills. Jobs had business skills. Jobs managed to get venture capitalists to invest in the production and distribution of his new contraption and the rest, as they say, is history. Jobs made it happen.
By age twenty five when the corporation went public (Initial public offering) he had over $265 million dollars in stock options. The boy is now a multi-millionaire. But he was not interested in money.
Steve kept living as an unkempt guy, a vegan, sharing a rented four bedroom house with two other people (one of his roommates was his former girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan when they were at Reed; he got her pregnant; he denied paternity and it took the state of California billing him to pay child support for him to do so...she was on welfare and as is the state’s policy, when a woman is on welfare the state tracks down the father of her child and made him pay up; even then Steve requested DNA testing to ascertain that the child is his; simply started, he abandoned his daughter, Lisa, pretty much as he, too, was abandoned by his father; if you abandon your child he is most likely going to abandon his own children; if you abuse your child he is most likely to abuse his children; why is that so? You, wise guy, figure it out).
Steve and Wozniak threw themselves into improving their new machine and the result was Apple 11, then Apple three (which Jobs called Lisa, his abandoned child’s name) and later Macintosh.
Steve’s personality is abrasive, perfectionist, controlling; the man revels in insulting folks. He divided humanity into two types: smart ones and the shitheads. If you were smart he respected you, if not you are a shithead (he regarded Bill Gates as a shithead, for, to him Bill did not invent anything but merely stole other people’s ideas (programs) and found ways to market them and make profit off them,...he considered Mr. Gates ideas thief!).
As an aside, why is it that those who made it big in technology did so in their twenties and generally did not have much education (Jobs, Gates, Henry Ford, Rockefeller, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison etc.)? Indeed, the discoverers of new ideas in physics, chemistry and biology did so in their twenties (Isaac Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Broglie, Dirac, Heisenberg, Pauline, Crick and Watson etc.). Why?
Steve’s personality may be good for being an entrepreneur but not good for running an organization, which is what Apple computers had become in the 1980s. Even he recognized that he did not have the diplomatic skills to run a huge organization (by then employing over 22,000 people). Calling folks brain-dead and shitheads is not the best way to use men and material to accomplish organizational goals.
Thus, Steve set about seeking a man with corporate Chief Executive Officer Skills to run his Apple Corporation. He eventually hired Mr. Sculley, who was then the president of a division of Pepsi Cola Corporation. Mr. Sculley managed to straighten out some of Steve’s mess.
Mr. Sculley hitherto ran an outfit that sold sugared water (Pepsi Cola) and knew squat about computers! Thus, Steve took to calling him a shithead! Moreover, Mr. Sculley was interested in the profitability of the business and was not interested in making technical innovations and coming up with new computers. Since Steve respected geeks and coming out with new and better products and Mr. Sculley wanted stability he had no respect for Mr. Sculley; the two were headed for a show down. Mr. Sculley got the board of directors to ease Steve out of his own corporation in 1985.
Mr. Jobs started new businesses, including some in animation and film production. He did well in those, too.
In the meantime, Apple was no longer coming up with new products and its competitors were eating it up; it lost market share. Apple’s profit tumbled down and it was in danger of going out of business.
In the late 1990s Steve was brought back and he turned the business around. As usual, he came up with new products, such as iPod, iPad, iPhone, iTunes etc. By 2010 Apple was the most valued corporation in the world, the richest corporation in the world!
Steve was very tenacious in his beliefs; he fought for them even when he was wrong he fights to uphold his beliefs. Consider his belief that he had to build his operating system into his hardware and not license it to other companies to use. Bill Gates, on the other hand, believed that he had to license his operating systems to whoever manufactures computers and wants an operating system in it. The result is that many computers today carry Microsoft’s operating system but Apple’s operating system is mostly found in Apple computers. Whereas there are advantages to what the two computer giants did, Apple probably would have made a bit more money if it did what Microsoft did (or even did better by not licensing it, as some software producers did). But, instead, Steve stood his ground and fought to death.
In later years the Internet came along and computing companies used Microsoft’s explorer that was designed as an open system (as opposed to Apple’s closed system). Microsoft was much more adaptable to the needs of the internet. Steve fought the wind.
Indeed, when it seemed that search engine companies (Yahoo and Google...both started by twenty something year old kids in the silicon valley) were skimming off Apple’s operating system, especially when it seemed like Google’s Android (for Apps) resembled Apples software Steve saw red and went to court. He was litigious and always suing other companies, including Asian computer makers such as Samsung.
The fact is that once an operating system is discovered folks are going to use it; call it steal it or whatever you want; you, therefore, either license it to folks to use or they are going to “borrow” it without your permission; there is nothing you can do about that borrowing, after all Steve did a lot of “borrowing” himself; his iPod and iTunes arguably stole from Sonny Corporation.
Ideas cannot be prevented from those who want to use them...in this paper I have certainly “stolen” the ideas of psychological giants like Adler, Horney and Freud. One has to get with it and stop fighting reality. Steve fought reality or wanted it to conform to what he wanted it to be. Of course, he failed, for no one is in control of reality; we adapt to reality and do not create it.
Mr. Jobs developed cancer in 2008 and after struggling with it died in 2011. He left the world with an innovative corporation, as Henry ford left for the automobile industry; he was the poster boy of the electronics age. So, how did he do it? Let us look at the man a bit more closely.
Steve was intense and a perfectionist. He, like most neurotics, apparently, rejected his actual self and posited an ideal, perfect self and wanted to become that imaginary perfect self. He was driven to actualize his fantasy ideal self.
He used the standards of his wished for ideal self to judge his self and those around him. He was extremely critical. He never accepted himself as he is as good or accept other people as good. One had to be improving, trying to become perfect before Steve accepted and respected one. Since, as we all know, the goal post of perfection is always shifting, when you attain it, it shifts so that you are always seeking for more and more perfections and never finally attaining it, Steve was engaged in the merry go round of obsessive compulsive cum paranoid pursuit of the chimera of perfection.
Alas, those living in human body could never become perfect; no matter how hard you try you cannot become perfect and people around you would not become perfect even if you whipped them on a daily basis. Regardless of your efforts human institutions, like the human beings that they serve, cannot become perfect, either.
Healthy human beings accept their selves and people as they are, imperfect. But since when is history written about healthy human beings?
The tragic hero is always a man who has character flaws and those flaws drive him to accomplish great things and eventually destroy him. Steve was a tragic hero. Everybody around him knew that he had personality disorders (he was extremely critical, argumentative, always putting folks down, seeing his self as special and other people as dumb asses).
Steve was an unforgiving man. He never did forgive his father for abandoning him. He did look for his father and eventually traced him to a restaurant and saw him but did not introduce himself or try to talk to him. He did not have anything to do with the man even when the man made overtures to relate to him.
I believe that this unforgiving aspect of Steve contributed to his developing cancer. Unforgiving folks almost always die from diseases contributed to by their unforgiving minds.
Forgiveness relaxes the human mind and body and enables people to live peacefully. Those who live peacefully and lovingly seldom contract incurable diseases, as Steve did (and peaceful folks seldom contribute to the advancement of human civilization, so it is as well that Steve was who he was; I cannot imagine the world without his contribution to computers, telephones and several other gadgets and industries).
Steve drove those around him crazy. Nothing folks around him did was ever good enough for him. If you did your best for him today he assigned to you a more difficult task and asked you to accomplish it in a matter of days and if you did not do so you become one of his shitheads. He would hire brilliant college professors and assign tasks to them and later find out that they are not as good as he had thought that they were and they become shitheads and he got rid of them.