Oct 11

Isaacson: What made Steve Steve

Stop pressuring me. I’m reading as fast as I can.

I have to say, I’m thoroughly enjoying Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Even more impressive than the writing (which is great) is Isaacson’s ability to weave an incredible number of interviews into one coherent story.

I’m not nearly done yet. But what interested me so much in the first half of the book are the early behaviors/experiences that helped form the mature Steve.

Stop here if you don’t want to hear any spoilers.

1. Visiting a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Steve witnessed a newborn calf struggle to its feet. He thought it was remarkable that she was “hardwired” to accomplish this instinctively. Somehow the brain and body were engineered to work together from the start. Ordinarily, I’d say it’s a stretch to tie this to Apple’s hardware and software working together — except that this story comes directly from Steve. The fact that he remembered it so distinctly is interesting, to say the least.

2. Steve’s father taught him a lesson in craftsmanship when they built a fence together, paying attention even to the details that no one would ever see. Many years later, in creating the first Macintosh, Steve demanded that the internal circuit board be better looking, even though no user could ever see it.

3. Of his time in India, Steve observed that the locals used their intuition more than their intellect. Steve said, “Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than any intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.” I’ll say.

4. Steve was barefoot when he pitched the Apple II to Atari’s president, Joe Keenan. He put his feet up on the desk while they talked and Joe didn’t like it one bit. Some 20 years later, I had the pleasure of seeing the same routine at one of our agency meetings, right there in the Apple boardroom. We weren’t grossed out, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen the bottoms of any other CEO’s feet.

5. In 1981, Steve had a “father figure” in then-CEO of Apple Mike Markkula. Steve said Mike is the one who taught him all about marketing — which is a huge deal, since we all know how Steve’s marketing sense permeates everything Apple does. Mike crafted a one-page paper entitled “The Apple Marketing Philosophy.” Isaacson summarizes its three main points. Empathy: establishing an intimate relationship with the feelings of customers. Focus: eliminating unimportant opportunities so they could do a good job of the things they wanted to do. Impute: ensuring that products are presented in such a way that people perceive quality. The 1981 Apple sounds suspiciously like the 2011 Apple.

6. Steve signed up for a booth at the West Coast Computer Faire, where the Apple II would make its debut. He shocked Woz by paying $5,000 for the best location in the hall, next to the entrance. Woz: “Steve decided that this was our big launch. We would show the world we had a great machine and great company.” Of course, over the years Steve would make sure Apple had a commanding presence at every show — until the company was successful enough that it didn’t even have to show up.

7. Everyone knows about Steve being inspired about the graphical interface and mouse he saw at the Xerox PARC facility. The part I never heard before was that Xerox’s mouse had three buttons and cost $300. Steve went to a local design firm, demanding a single-button mouse that cost $15. Not surprisingly, he got it.

Not that I ever suspected that the modern Steve magically appeared from nowhere — but it’s interesting to see how many of his famous behaviors and beliefs were evident so many years ago.

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  • tony

    what surprised me most was who was responsible for pushing steve/apple to make the iPad…

  • Andre

    It sounds like we’re at the same place in the book. One thing that I found a little jarring was how the narrative went from Steve going around trying to figure out how to sell the Apple I, and guiding the Apple II, and basically trying to get his design feet under him, to the modern Steve that we all know about in the Mac section where his sense of aesthetics seems to have been fully formed. There didn’t seem to be much continuity between the Apple II days where he was still a little unsure to the Mac days where he was really sure.

    Maybe it just seems that way because there’s a lot more information available on the early Mac days (ie. folklore.org) than the early Apple days.

  • Dude

    Wanted to say, thanks for the warning to stop reading to avoid spoilers. Getting tired of too many headlines spoiling the book, which I haven’t been able to start reading yet because I’m trying to finish a product right now.

  • no

    “intuition more than their intellect”

    So Indians that gave the world Decimal System
    didn’t know logic. India also gave Grammar to
    the world but I guess its study didn’t really born out
    Comparative Language Study or Computer Language
    design 2000 year later. India also gave nursery rhymes to the world and much much more but none
    of that is taught in West.
    Steve couldn’t explain poverty of India
    because all he learned from western books was vague notion of spirituality.

    This is no better than “Nobel Savage” of Rousseau.
    Steve went back to Japan multiple times but never went back to India that should inform his true feelings.

  • Mark Lillywhite

    @no, I think the quote is taken a little out of context. Neither Jobs nor Isaacson said that Indians don’t use their intellect. Just that they give time to their intuition. I think it’s intended as a compliment.

    @Ken great to see you get a shout-out in the book :-)

  • Dude

    This book is full of shit- like the claim that OS x is not based on NeXTSTEP. Isaacson did a hatchet job, that lying fucker. From antannagate to android he believes the lies told by others against Steve and often quotes Steve telling the truth and follows it up with the assertion that Steve is lying while providing no evidence.

    This is a book for rubes that perpetuates the mythology about Steve they’ve been spreading for over 30 years.

    It’s a shame Steve wasted any of his remaining time talking to this liar.