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Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson

Steve Wozniac was a geek at high school. He got into trouble for building a make-believe ticking bomb. The police were called and he spent the night in juvenile detention. It was a memorable experience. He taught the other prisoners how to disconnect the wires for the ceiling fan and connect them to the bars so that people got shocked when they touched them.

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Jobs reality distortion field. But most Apple people believed it was empowering - Jobs got his team to achieve things with a fraction of the resources of Xerox or IBM. "It was a self-fulfilling distortion - you did the impossible because he made you believe it was possible."

Had to put his words through a translator. Had to learn that when he said "This is shit" he actually meant "Tell me why this is the best way to do it."

Bill gates classic zinger when Jobs accused him of ripping off the Apple graphic interface for Windows. "Well Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbour named Xerox and I broke into the house to steal his TV set and found that you had already stolen it."

Jobs complained that the Macintosh was taking too long to boot up. He wanted 10 secs shaved off time. He put some numbers on a whiteboard - there were 5 million people using Macs, and that extra 10 seconds added up to 300 million hours per year, which was the equivalent of 100 human lifetimes saved per year.

Shared with Jony Ive, the British designer who headed Apple design team. Shared attitude to simplicity - not just minimalism or an absence of clutter, but a deep understanding of the product so that you can get rid of everything that isn't essential.

Where other companies had formal design reviews with detailed presentations, Jobs and Ive worked by continually improving a prototype on a day-to-day process. In Apple design lab, big steel tables set up with all the products being developed laid out for evaluation.

Tim Cook came to Apple to run procurement. At an early meeting he was told of a problem with one of Apple's Chinese suppliers. "This is really bad," he said. "Someone should be in China driving this." Thirty minutes later he looked up at the operations exec responsible for the area and said unemotionally "Why are you still here?" The exec stood up, drove straight to SF airport and bought a ticket to China.

Jobs wanted to build Apple stores, but was strongly resisted by his board, who'd seen others like Gateway fail dismally. But Jobs wanted to open in malls and high traffic areas, not big boxes in suburbs. One board member (Micky Drexler of Gap clothing) supported him, and advised him to build a secret prototype to try out ideas and to have something tangible to display. When Apple announced its plans officially, they were widely ridiculed in the press, who predicted that they would all be closed within 2 years.But of course they turned out to be raging successes. Flagship store on Manhattan's 5th Avenue, open 24/7 grosses more per square foot than any other store in the world, and its dollar gross was higher than any other store in New York.

After successfully launching iTunes, Jobs started pushing for a music player in 2000, but his engineers told him the parts weren't available yet. Jon Rubinstein knew he could get a small screen and battery, but no disk drive small enough. But a year later, he was in japan for a routine Toshiba meeting when a "Oh just by the way" moment - Toshiba engineers mentioned they had designed a tiny 1.8-inch 5Gb hard drive that they didn't know what to do with. Rubenstein did. 5GB meant a thousand songs in your pocket. Perfect. he kept a poker face and negotiated exclusive rights for every one of the drives they could make. Jobs was also in Japan for a MacWorld event. Rubinstein rolls up to Job's hotel room and says "I an do it now, but I need a cheque for $10 million." He got it.

To pull it all together, Rubenstein hired Tony Fadell, who had already prototyped a slick mp3 player. This all led to clashes later on, because each man thought he was the 'father of the iPod.' As Rubinstein saw it, he had sourced all the components then brought in Fadell to put it together. But Fadell could claim that he had brought a great design with him, which he had already tried to get other companies to build. Theissue of who should be 'Podfather' has been fought for years, through articles, interviews, web pages and Wikipedia.

When came time to launch iPod, advertising team came up with range posters for Job's approval. They pinned them up on wall, with the traditional photos of iPod-on-background images at right end, and at left, the most graphic images which showed just a silhouette of someone dancing with just the earphone wires suggesting product. Ad team all stood firmly down the left end to try to force Jobs down to them. But he loved the traditional pics at first, and had to be practically dragged down to the graphic end. Not surprisingly he was soon claiming that the idea was all his.

2006, Jobs finally got right to distribute music of ob Dylan, his hero. Part of the deal was that Dylan would make a commercial for Apple. Up until then, artists had commanded huge fees to appear in ads, but in a Tom Sawyer reversal, Jobs convinced Dylan that he would gain more from the exposure, and he turned out to be right. His album went to No1 for first time in 30 years - Apple gave him credibility with a younger demographic that he couldn't otherwise reach.

Tim Cook, now COO, was able to stay calm with Job's tantrums. "...people mistook some of his comments as ranting or negativism, but it was really just the way he showed passion. So that's how I processed it, and I never took issues personally."

Jobs got on well with Rupert Murdoch, but attacked him fiercely over Fox News."The axis today is not liberal-conservative, it's constructive-destructive, and you've cast your lot with the destructive people. Fox has become an incredibly destructive force in our society." Murdoch later said he was used to people like Jobs complaining about Fox. "He's got sort of a left wing view of this." he said.

Murdoch also had a great line about having dinner at Job's place. "It's a great experience, as long as you get out before the local restaurants close."

Atlantic Review

(NY Times article) One of the questions I wrestled with when writing about Steve Jobs was how smart he was. On the surface, this should not have been much of an issue. You’d assume the obvious answer was: he was really, really smart. Maybe even worth three or four reallys. After all, he was the most innovative and successful business leader of our era and embodied the Silicon Valley dream writ large: he created a start-up in his parents’ garage and built it into the world’s most valuable company.

But I remember having dinner with him last year around his kitchen table, as he did almost every evening with his wife and kids. Someone brought up one of those brain-teasers involving a monkey having to carry a load of bananas across a desert, with a set of restrictions about how far and how many he could carry at one time, and you were supposed to figure out how long it would take. Jobs tossed out a few intuitive guesses but showed no interest in grappling with the problem rigorously. I thought about how Bill Gates would have gone click-click-click and logically nailed the answer in 15 seconds, and also how Gates devoured science books as a holiday pleasure. But then something else occurred to me: Gates never made the iPod. Instead, he made the Zune.

So was Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatises an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigour. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers, but like a pathfinder he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.

He told me he began to appreciate the power of intuition, in contrast to what he called “Western rational thought”, when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do,” he said. “They use their intuition instead…  Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

Jobs also had a lot of imagination and knew how to apply it. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Einstein is, of course, the true exemplar of genius. He had contemporaries who could probably match him in pure intellectual firepower when it came to mathematical and analytic processing. Henri Poincaré, for example, first came up with some of the components of special relativity, and David Hilbert was able to grind out equations for general relativity around the same time Einstein did. But neither had the imaginative genius to make the full creative leap at the core of their theories, namely that there is no such thing as absolute time and that gravity is a warping of the fabric of space-time. (Okay, it’s not that simple, but that’s why he was Einstein and we’re not.)

Einstein had the elusive qualities of genius, which included an intuition and imagination that allowed him to think differently (or, as Jobs’s ads said, to Think Different). Although he was not particularly religious, Einstein described this intuitive genius as the ability to read the mind of God. When assessing a theory, he would ask himself, Is this the way that God would design the universe? And he expressed his discomfort with quantum mechanics, which is based on the idea that probability plays a governing role in the universe, by declaring that he could not believe God would play dice. (At one physics conference, Niels Bohr was prompted to urge Einstein to quit telling God what to do.)

Both Einstein and Jobs were very visual thinkers. The road to relativity began when the teenage Einstein kept trying to picture what it would be like to ride alongside a light beam. Jobs spent time almost every afternoon walking around the studio of his brilliant design chief, Jony Ive, and fingering foam models of the products they were developing.

Jobs’s genius wasn’t, as even his fanboys admit, in the same quantum orbit as Einstein’s. So it is probably best to ratchet the rhetoric down a notch and call it ingenuity. Gates is super-smart, but Jobs was super-ingenious. The primary distinction, I think, is the ability to apply creativity and aesthetic sensibilities to a challenge.

In the world of invention and innovation, that means combining an appreciation of the humanities with an understanding of science — connecting artistry to technology, poetry to processors. This was Jobs’s speciality. “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

The ability to merge creativity with technology depends on one’s ability to be emotionally attuned to others. Jobs could be petulant and unkind in dealing with other people, which caused some to think he lacked basic emotional awareness. In fact, it was the opposite. He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, cajole them, intimidate them, target their deepest vulnerabilities, and delight them at will. He knew, intuitively, how to create products that pleased, interfaces that were friendly, and marketing messages that were enticing.

In the annals of ingenuity, new ideas are only part of the equation. Genius requires execution. When others produced boxy computers with forbidding interfaces that confronted users with unfriendly green prompts that said things such as “C:\>”, Jobs saw there was a market for an interface like a sunny playroom. Hence, the Macintosh. Sure, Xerox came up with the graphical desktop metaphor, but the personal computer it built was a flop and it did not spark the home-computer revolution. Between conception and creation, TS  Eliot observed, there falls the shadow.

In some ways, Jobs’s ingenuity reminds me of that of Benjamin Franklin, one of my other biography subjects. Among the American founders, Franklin was not the most profound thinker — that distinction goes to Jefferson or Madison or Hamilton. But he was ingenious.

This depended, in part, on his ability to intuit the relationships between different things. When he invented the battery, he experimented with it to produce sparks that he and his friends used to kill a turkey for their end-of-season feast. In his journal, he recorded all the similarities between such sparks and lightning during a thunderstorm, then declared, “Let the experiment be made.” So he flew a kite in the rain, drew electricity from the heavens, and ended up inventing the lightning rod. Like Jobs, Franklin enjoyed the concept of applied creativity — taking clever ideas and smart designs and applying them to useful devices.

China and India are likely to produce many rigorous analytical thinkers and knowledgeable technologists. But smart and educated people don’t always spawn innovation. America’s advantage, if it continues to have one, will be that it can produce people who are also more creative and imaginative, those who know how to stand at the intersection of the humanities and the sciences. That is the formula for true innovation, as Jobs’s career showed.

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