In the interest of improving my knowledge on matters beyond fiction novels and reality TV, I have decided to indulge in the reading of some non-fiction books. To begin with, I decided to try a Biography and picked up a copy of Steve Job’s Biography by Walter Isaacson. At first, I found it difficult to read as it was big change from the easy flowing storylines of most novels I am used to. However, I kept plodding through the difficult parts and eventually, I was riveted and I literally could not put it down. Steve Job’s life was very interesting with dramatic highs and lows. He was a vibrant man with an intense dedication to his companies and the products he developed in conjunction with the fortunate or unfortunate people who worked with him. I typically do not like blogging using the ‘Listing Points’ format but in this case, I prefer to draw up a list as a summary of the key lessons I learned and highlight areas where I disagreed with his values.
- It is important to be passionate and enjoy the work you do.
Jobs was extremely passionate about the work he did and always sought to improve whatever he was working on. It was interesting to read how he began a hobby of working with gadgets as a young boy in high school. His passion was evident from the beginning and he developed his passion and skills and formed friendships with like-minded people. I don’t think making a business out of the products he and his friends developed was a negative thing. He was using his skills to make a living and to become financially independent. As a lesson for the world and particularly Africa, we really need to develop the technical skills of our people. It is not enough to teach children the theory behind technology, it is important to help them develop their skills practically. Jobs was building computers in high school! He even pointed the issue to President Obama when he said that the U.S had limited engineers with practical hands-on hardware skills and therefore, technology firms resulted to using Chinese labour. (cheaper labour issues aside).
- Pick yourself up when you are knocked down
I find it astonishing that anyone could get kicked out a company that they founded but Jobs was one of the distinguished members of this infamous club. Granted, he was kicked out while still holding a substantial stake in the company, but he could not work there as an employee on the products he loved so much. In the book, it seems he had a brief period where he allowed himself to feel sadness and be down in the dumps but, he managed to pick himself up, dust himself off and begin working on new ventures and projects. He quickly found other areas of interest to himself and moved on with his typical passionate energy. Following his exit from Apple, he started a new company called NEXT and he also bought into Pixar which was a struggling animation technology company at the time. Through NEXT, he developed an operating system that was actually used in later years at Apple. At Pixar, Jobs found another group of passionate and creative people who he really believed in. He kept pumping money into the company as it was making losses until it finally succeeded beyond even what he had envisioned. In fact, I don’t think Jobs himself predicted the success of Pixar in the animation film industry because he had bought into what he thought would be the success of an operating system to be used by graphic designers and animation. Without his investment into Pixar, the world would not have the movies Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, Monsters Inc, among other fabulously delightful films.
- Style is not necessarily separate from substance
The artistic angle to everything he did was probably what made Jobs’ products unique and exceptional. In the technology industry, his passion for art and style particularly as a leader, was second to none. Many of the technological firms prefer to hold function with higher regard than style. With Jobs, style was just as important as the function of the product which likely lead to painstaking iterations in the design of the same product in order to have the function fit the form. By valuing beauty in all of the products they developed, Apple appealed to the visual and human side of consumers and attracted a group of people who would have otherwise never used a personal computer or a mobile phone. Therefore, art and beauty are actually very important in life and should be regarded with high esteem. This is a key lesson particularly in African schools where the arts are not celebrated and considered inferior to more scientific subjects. Personally, I consider science to be critical for development of humans and society but the arts equally have a significant role to play.
- Treat others with respect and dignity
I think the downside of Job’s genius was that he would treat people brutally with very little consideration for their welfare or feelings. For him, the end justified the means. One line in the book states that his rough and prickly nature hurt him more than it helped him. I tend to believe this. Had he treated people with more respect and compassion, who knows what greater products he could have developed? For me, treating others with dignity and respect and indeed showing love to others is something that is critical in humanity or we will end up a failed world. (current wars and violence is a clear result of the lack of empathy and love in the world.)
Also, success can be measured in various ways and like beauty, it depends on the eye of the beholder. Just because he was successful in developing amazing products, doesn’t mean he was successful in other areas of life which others would consider more important. I hope to appreciate the positive aspects in his life and learn for the negative aspects. As stated in the book, his life is a both an inspiring and cautionary tale.
I really tried to compress this one but didn’t manage to loll…. There’s a lot more in the book so I would recommend it!