Becoming Steve Jobs (Book Review) - "Here's to the crazy ones"

"Here’s to the crazy ones.The misfits.The rebels.The troublemakers." One of the many famous quotes of Apple's history, taken from the legendary "Think Different" campaign of 1997. This is one of the many treasures you can find in the newest book adaptation of Steve Jobs life, written by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli.

But besides highlighting the hits and famous stories of Steve and his companies this particular book gives a very candit view on the development of THE pioneer of the computer industry. In itself it is a perfect addition to the official biography written by Walter Issacson called "Steve Jobs" in 2011.

Why this book matters

Why this book stands out is simple, the authors decided to tell it from a first person view, respectively, from Brent Schlender himself, who is not only one of the top journalists in tech but who also got many chances to interview Jobs along his career for the past decades. You can easily lose yourself in the process and forget about the time while reading!

The narration follows Jobs from his early days at Apple as a start-up to his final years. The peculiar thing is, that we get to know Jobs from a different perspective, he is not just the hot headed CEO who bosses people around or just the legendary visionary who produces innovative products like a machine, we get to know all the grey areas in between. Schlender describes in detail how Jobs changed during his career and you get to read a beautiful story about personal growth - that's what makes this piece of work special.

He also stresses the fact, that many (falsly) interpret his 8Jobs) managment style as being an a**hole and that's it. What lacks most managers who try to be like Jobs is the genius part. There a chapters in which many people who worked for or with Jobs describe this fine line of his ability to be brutally honest and destructive in a conversation while on the other side being totally intrigued by new ideas and letting creative people do their best work. The stellar example of the latter description becomes vivid through Ed Catmull, the President of Pixand and Disney Animation. We learn that, while Jobs was CEO of Pixar, he let Catmull and his team do their work without interferring in creative matters, because he knew that he would hurt that process. At the same time he was highly involved in the process of analysing and watching the first steps of Pixar's first feature film: Toy Story.

Those moments and insights presented throughout the whole book make it worth your while.

What you can learn from it

A story is one of the most powerful education tools we know - it begins early in childhood that we learn by listening to stories and it continues to inspire us till the very end. Stories are powerful and we can learn by observing others and listening to their story. As said before, this book does not only tell a tale worth telling but tells in it in such a compelling way, that it's very easy to take lessons from it. Here are just three lessons (there are many more) I discovered during my reading experience:

  • Passion is key

When you think about it, passion is the key driver of our behaviour and without it as a force of nature we are likely to get lost on the way or stop all together... It gives you the perseverance you need to succeed or fail - both are equally important. Why is that? Taking Steve Jobs as an example, from a young age he was convinced he could change the world and take technology to a consumer friedly level. After building his own company around this idea, he was fired by his own board as financial decisions got harder and the next innovation just didn't happen. So at 30 he was at the very beginning again, but his passion wasn't. He quickly recovered and founded neXt, which would be bought by Apple in the years to come and was the backbone for the future success of Apple's OS. He also bought Pixar at that time and helped to shape the animation industry by enabling them to start the very first animated feature film. Although he was neglacted by the company he founded, he kept going. Through this process he learned a lot more about himself and management that he wouldn't have with Apple, the company that would later benefit from exactly that experience. The bottom line is that you shouldn't stop doing what you love neither professionally nor privately, because that is the spark that keeps you going even in bad times. Passion is key.

  • Personal growth is a journey

You just won't wake up one day and be a visionary leader or excellent manager. Everything takes times and "Becoming Steve Jobs" helps you understand this better than many other books. The development of your personality, you skill set and intuition can only be achieved by constantly taking steps forward, making mistakes and getting over yourself. By the end of the 90's when Steve Jobs returned to Apple as iCEO (the "i" stands for interim) he was a different type of manager. He learned a lot from working with neXt and Pixar. He changed for the better, he was more calm, he knew how to micro manage and how to get results quickly - things he had trouble with 10 years earlier. He knew his strengths and when to trust his gut. He became older and wiser. His vision for the future was clearer. He achieved all this, because he grew as a person and a manager. It took him almost 10 years to sharpen his skills to save a company which was just months away from insolvency. Be patient, personal growth is a journey.

  • Be bold and take risks

In 2001 Apple introduced the iPod, a music playing device that changed, or rather disrupted, the music industry. In combination with iTunes, as the counter part on the software side, Apple competed not with Sony or any other leading music company at that time, he competed with Napster, a platform for pirated music, which meant competing against downloads for free. Steve Jobs wasn't just looking at his competitors, he was looking at the market needs and he built a service using a business model formed by pirates and made it comercially successful. That is the reason why we listen to legal music on iTunes today. He was bold and talked to the big companies in the music business and convinced them that he could turn this industry around and bring value back to them. At the same time he got a huge cut for Apple itself (30% from every purchase on iTunes). He took a risk that could've easily destroyed Apple, if he failed to break through with this idea, but he didn't fail. It changed the industry for the better. Be bold and take risks.

How to use this book - Conclusion

Reading only takes you so far. If you want a deep dive into the life and development of Steve Jobs, this book is for you. If you are a manager and wonder how you can improve and become more efficient, this book is for you. If you are a student and seek help, advice or just a good story about the tech business, this book is for you.

I highly recommend this journey of reading through it and using its insights and lessons you can draw from a legendary leader and his development, rich of stories, interviews and comments from people who knew him best.

Use it as an inspiration to energize your own life and job. Find the joy in small things, what is it your passionate about, do you have that spark somewhere in your life or did it go amiss?

Let me know what you find on your journey!

If you already read this book, do you agree with my review, did I miss something? Feel free to leave a feedback in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!

Sebastian