Becoming Steve Jobs

He loved his children, but he’s still the guy that illegally parked in handicapped spaces.

Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli had front-row seats to the career of Steve Jobs. Their new biography, entitled Becoming Steve Jobs (Crown Business, 2015, ISBN 978-0385347402), combines nearly twenty-five years of their personal interview notes with some great photos and new interviews with current and former Apple employees as well as Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs. Brent Schlender interviewed Steve Jobs and Bill Gates in the August 1991 edition of Fortune magazine that I still have on my bookshelf. And Rick Tetzeli has spent many years covering technology for Fast Company.

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

A lot of the media coverage surrounding Becoming Steve Jobs implies “he wasn’t so bad,” no doubt influenced by the book’s subtitle, “The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader”.I don’t disagree that Walter Isaacson’s biography was flawed (see related Daring Fireball article, Walter Isaacson’s ‘Steve Jobs’). Much of the “growth” narrative from the “wilderness years” at Pixar and NeXT is beautifully captured in Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. (see my related book review, Creativity, Inc.) and often cited by the Becoming Steve Jobs authors. Dr. Catmull also contributes to the “growth” narrative from the book’s back cover.

After working with Steve for over twenty-five years, I feel this book captures with great insight the growth and complexity of a truly extraordinary person. I hope that it will be recognized as the definitive history.

Ed Catmull, president, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios

So we learn that Steve Jobs had close friends and loved his children, but he’s still the guy that illegally parked in handicapped spaces. As a father, I was particularly moved by the CEO trying to stay alive from incurable cancer long enough to attend his son’s graduation. As an employee, I was discouraged by a CEO who discarded strong contributors when he determined they outlived their usefulness. But Becoming Steve Jobs displaced several other interesting books on my bedside table. Its 464-page account of a one-of-a-kind Silicon Valley pioneer was impossible to put down.

What did you think about Becoming Steve Jobs?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Creativity, Inc.

A thought-provoking book for those that inspire and motivate teams.

Ed Catmull is co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and president of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. Dr. Catmull is a recognized pioneer in the field of computer animation and joined George Lucas at Lucasfilm in 1979. What we now know as Pixar would be spun off and acquired in 1986 by none other than Steve Jobs, who simultaneously led both Pixar and NeXT Computer after his exile from Apple Computer. Creativity, Inc., Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand In the Way of True Inspiration (Random House, 2014, ISBN 978-0812993011) documents not only Dr. Catmull’s journey, but also the journey of computer animation from a university research topic to SIGGRAPH short films like Red’s Dream and Tin Toy to 1995’s Toy Story, the first fully computer animated film. In my college days, I would watch Pixar shorts at computer animation festivals. Now that I’m a parent, I still have a valid “excuse” to see each and every Pixar film.

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Judging Pixar’s exceptional track record, it might not seem that its employees need help being creative. But every one of its films has struggled at some point during its development. What Pixar has developed over the years, under Ed Catmull’s leadership, is an evolving set of principles and practices that help it deliver award-winning stories that touch the hearts of children and adults alike.

We tend to think only of artists and musicians when the topic of creativity is mentioned. But creativity underlies nearly every human endeavor, including business intelligence. And not just the visual aspects of our work. Data architecture and integration require just as much creativity as data visualization. What I most appreciated about this book was its insights on how a diverse group of professionals can learn to work more effectively together, be more candid in giving feedback and more gracious in receiving it.

A thought-provoking book for those that inspire and motivate teams.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Hour of Code

Join the Hour of Code this week.

 

Today, December 9, is the beginning of Computer Science Education Week, observed each year in recognition of the birthday of computing pioneer Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (born December 9, 1906). Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to promoting computer science education, is encouraging every K-12 student in America to join an “Hour of Code.”

Steve Jobs believed that “I think everyone should learn how to program a computer, because it teaches you how to think.”

My love affair with programming started with BASIC at a local Radio Shack (see related article, Radio Shack’s TRS-80 turns 35) and later turned into C and C++ before I discovered business intelligence. My children may not follow me into engineering school and a technology profession, but I do hope that they will each learn how to do some simple programming. My twelve-year-old daughter recently took part in a one-day computer camp at a local university learning Scratch and Processing. And I recently joined my first Kickstarter for Kano, a Raspberry Pi-based computer, but it won’t arrive for her and I to put together until next summer.

In the meantime, Code.org has many resources on their web site for the Hour of Code. Consider taking an hour this week and help somebody discover programming.

Resources

 

Insanely Simple

Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Ken Segall is an ad agency creative director who had the privilege of working with Steve Jobs at both Apple and NeXT. Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success (Portfolio, ISBN 978-1591844839) shares his marketing adventures with the Apple co-founder and provides a ten-step outline of how to apply the concepts of simplicity to any organization or project.

Insanely Simple book cover

The concept of simplicity was not invented by Mr. Segall, or even Steve Jobs.

I didn’t invent the concepts in this book. I merely observed them.

Simplicity is something that we pursue for the benefit of those who use our products and services. The pursuit begins by taking an honest look at those products and services and removing the mortal enemy of simplicity, which is complexity.

As those who have worked with Apple will attest, the simpler way isn’t always the easiest. Often it requires more time, more money, and more energy. It might require you to step on a few toes. But more times than not, it will lead to measurably better results.

Apple goes to great lengths to create products that are simple for users; however, this quest for simplicity doesn’t make life simple for the people that create the products. Instead, Apple employees expend a great deal of time and energy on the smallest details of the iOS user interface, the machining of iPhone frames from aluminium, or fusing iMac LCD screens to glass. But the reward for this pursuit is passionate customers who appreciate not only Apple products but the values behind them.

In addition to how to pursue simplicity as a corporate philosophy, Insanely Simple provides additional glimpses into the life of Steve Jobs and the inner workings of Apple. The book will be equally at home on your bookshelf next to business classics like Jim Collins’ Good to Great or Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs autobiography.

Resources

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation

Iconic is a beautifully photographed record of Apple innovation

Iconic - a photographic tribute to apple innovation by Jonathan Zufi

Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation is a photographic journey through the history of Apple and its groundbreaking products, from the Apple I through today’s latest laptops, desktops and iDevices. The book contains 350 pages of over 650 beautifully taken photos of Apple products. It comes in two editions, the “classic edition” hardcover that I purchased and a “special edition” that comes in an Apple II-esque enclosure. The book is the creation of Jonathan Zufi, who is director of SAP’s Mobility Innovation Center by day and an Apple fan by night. Over the years, he has accumulated a great deal of vintage Apple products in his Atlanta basement in support of the Shrine of Apple web site that has been beautifully photographed for the book.

My first Apple experience was with the Apple IIe in high school. During my college years, the engineering program was strictly PCs and Sun workstations. Only music and design majors got to use the Apple Macintosh. I didn’t own an Apple product of my own until I purchased an iPod in 2006 (see related LinkedIn article, The Butterfly that Started the Apple Tsunami). Since then, my wife and I have had various iPhone models (3G, 3GS, 4 and now we each have an iPhone 5). My home PC is a Late 2009 Mac Mini and my work PC is a MacBook Pro. All of these devices connect to the internet using an Apple Airport Extreme wireless router.

I ordered Iconic immediately after reading the October 3 review in the Wall Street Journal (see related WSJ article, New Book Erects Photographic Shrine to Apple). Sadly, I was on a customer visit when the book arrived at my home. But I promptly opened the box after returning home and hugging my wife and children. It’s been a lot of fun to flip through a beautiful record of computing history and remembering what stage of life I was in when a particular device was introduced to the world.

Iconic will raise the stature of any coffee table it’s placed on- even the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I purchased this book and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Jobs – a movie review

My review of Jobs, the movie

I watched Jobs this weekend with my 12-year-old iPod Touch-wielding daughter. By now, you’ve read several negative reviews, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s on Gizmodo. Or that the movie was buried by Oprah Winfrey’s The Butler on opening weekend.

I’m one of the few who enjoyed Disney’s much ballyhooed John Carter, having read the entire series of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels when I was my daughter’s age. And I’ve lost count of the times I’ve watched the original Tron. So I may not be the right person to ask for movie recommendations. But I enjoyed the Jobs movie and recommend that you watch it and form your own opinion.

I believe critics are reacting to the film the same way technology analysts react to an Apple product launch – with unrealistic expectations. Have you ever heard anyone complain about Dell putting PC’s in the same boring boxes year after year? Just as Walter Issacson’s biography of Steve Jobs was criticized as incomplete despite its 656-page length (see John Gruber’s review as an example), this movie is faulted for trying to put into 2 hours what even Ken Burns would struggle to put into a 10-hour miniseries.  Robert X. Cringely, despite disliking the movie, put this idea into words.

The great failing of this film is the same failing as with Walter Isaacson’s book… we don’t really understand [Steve Jobs] any better.

Robert X. Cringely
Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs somehow misses the whole point

Even the mediocre reviews give Ashton Kutcher much (deserved) praise for his portrayal of Steve Jobs, including his mannerisms. Whatever the final box office success of Jobs is, I believe the movie is Ashton Kutcher’s “Philadelphia moment” that will propel the actor best known for That ’70s Show and Two and a Half Men into a new series of roles, just as the 1993 film Philadelphia propelled Tom Hanks out of comedies like The Man with One Red Shoe into dramatic films like Saving Private Ryan and The Da Vinci Code.

I did not leave the theater counting the days until The Social Network director Aaron Sorkin’s take on Steve Jobs arrives. I left the theater asking myself “can’t we do both”?  Can we create companies that build insanely great products without creating insane cut-throat work environments? For now, the answer is apparently still “no”.

If you are looking for the “real” Steve Jobs, check out Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview on Netflix. Or any number of books, including Issacson’s (see my book review in related article, Steve Jobs). But Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal is worth a ticket stub and some popcorn.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I borrowed a copy of this book from a public library and did not receive it free from its publisher. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Steve Jobs on Legacy

This is a field where one does one’s work and in 10 years it’s obsolete.

 

All the work that I have done in my life will be obsolete by the time I’m 50… This is a field where one does one’s work and in 10 years it’s obsolete.

Steve Jobs in 1994 interview

This week, the YouTube channel EverySteveJobsVideo released a previously unreleased interview clip courtesy of the Silicon Valley Historical Association.

With each new Apple product released since Steve Job’s death, the bloggers and pundits pontificate over whether Steve Jobs influenced its design. In a few years, we’ll no longer ask such questions.

That really awesome supply chain report that I wrote using Desktop Intelligence 10 years ago? Unlikely that it’s still in use today. The same can be said for the universes, dashboards and reports that I’ve created even just a few years ago. Yours, too.

Drive by any cemetery and you’ll see at least a few really elaborate tombstones. The family mausoleums. The Washington Monument wannabes. We crave legacy and permanence and try to avoid thinking about the fact that we have little of each.

Marco Arment wrote on this topic last year in a blog entitled Lasting Value.

None of the software I write today is likely to still be in use in thirty years, but if I write a truly great and timeless article, that could be valuable to people for much longer.

Even being President of the United States may not help. Although only 44 people have held the office, we can name significant accomplishments of so few.

If we can recognize that our accomplishments are so fleeting, may we also recognize that the challenges that we face today are momentary and will seem insignificant in just months or years. And save our focus and energy for things that are of lasting value.