I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have found Steve Jobs biography to be tough going. It’s not the writing, it’s the subject. Before I started reading the book, I had no real image of Steve Jobs in my head other than his public persona. The more I read of his life story, the less I find myself liking him. I try to persevere – but it’s hard work.
So I was interested to see Walter Isaacson, the author presenting at IBM’s Impact conference last week. I didn’t really know much about him either, but it turns out that Steve Jobs is not the only subject of his biographies. He has also written the life stories of Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin. Apparently, Steve Jobs approached him and asked why not do his biography next. Walter joked about Jobs thinking his name being the next name in the sequence after Einstein & Franklin showing a distinct lack of humility.
He argued that smart people are relatively common, but what set his subjects apart was imagination. He told the story about Steve Jobs painting a fence with his father. Confounded by his suggestion to apply as much care and attention to the back of the fence as to the front, Steve Jobs asked why – who will know? His father told Jobs that he would know. That notion of caring obsessively about every facet of his products extended throughout his career.
Walter went on to say that innovation requires passion and curiosity. Einstein’s father gave him a childhood gift of a compass. He became fascinated with the idea of magnetic fields and Maxwell’s equations They state that the speed of the magnetic field remains constant regardless of your speed or direction. Einstein couldn’t understand why this would be the case until he fathomed out the theory of relativity.
As a young man, Benjamin Franklin spent a lot of time on ships going to and fro across the Atlantic Ocean. He couldn’t understand why the journey was shorter going one way than the other. So he began experimenting by pulling buckets behind the ship and sampling the water as the ship travelled. Through experimentation, he discovered that the water in one direction was warmer than the other which accounted for the ease of passage.
Benjamin Franklin was also very open and collaborative, which Walter argued was also important to innovation. He told a story about the declaration of independence which because of my lack of familiarity with the document didn’t mean that much to me, but I assume it illustrated his point. Paradoxically – Apple is not what you would describe as an open and collaborative company but there you go.
So, will my Steve Jobs biography become easier having seen the author himself. Unfortunately – probably not. But I am tempted to try another of Walter’s books. He is currently working on a history of computing which sounds like it would be right up my street.
- Walter Isaacson Talks At Length About Steve Jobs’s Character & Management Style [Video] (cultofmac.com)
- The Steve Jobs Biography (toreds.com)
- IBM Impact confab has a Steve Jobs vibe (zdnet.com)