By Walter Isacson
Reviewed by Dr. Leo Salgado, MSOL faculty
Walter Issacson's book, Steve Jobs, tells the life of a remarkable person, whose love for engineering and art helped him pioneer the intersection of the humanities and the sciences, artistry and technology. The results of his pioneering effort created what has become the most valuable technology company in the world. Although not without its flaws, the book well portrays a man possessed and animated by a first-rate spirit of his age. The book tells how he willfully, and with immense talent and mercurial temper, brought to life products that changed the times, perhaps like the inventions of Gutenberg, Edison, and Ford. Because of the book's well researched details of Steve Job's real life experiences, the book provided me with insights into what makes a person a times-changing leader.
Let me touch upon two specific insights. According to Issacson, Steve Jobs, like so many people of his time, fully embraced the ideas that represented the hippie movement of the 60's, including an attachment to eastern religions such as Zen Buddhism. But most important, Jobs embodied the words of the paradigm shifter Nietzche, specifically, “the spirit wills his own will and those who were lost to the world, now rule the world." In Jobs’ life, this meant that he could make his own reality; he could will his own will, what others called "his reality distortion field." Hoping for results that no-one else could see, he bent reality to his strong will and actualized his and others' potential, which was hidden to them. Many times he asked his team to go beyond what the team thought possible to design and program the impossible in a limited amount of time. Hating him for asking them to achieve something beyond their reality, Jobs’ team found out that reality could be altered each time he presented a challenge. The insight: A leader therefore embodies the words of a paradigm shifter and realizes them in himself and others.
Similarly, the second insight reveals the commonality, or absolute identity that must exist between a leader and the follower. Jobs' mercurial and caustic temper and his indomitable creative spirit divided people and made the workplace extremely difficult. His employees were either bozos or great; their work was either crap or masterpieces. No in between existed for Jobs. Because of this judgementalism, even though Jobs’ staff hated working for him, they loved their work and gave their life for the same transcendent ideas that he personified. Jobs' passion for pioneering the intersection between artistry and science contaminated all those whom he led. They worked for a transcendent idea that had nothing to do with them or each other or Jobs. That's why they were able to overcome his caustic personality. Together they created products that represented this intersection such as the original Macintosh computer, the iMac, the iPhone, the iPod, the iPad and Pixar movies like Toy Story. Together they changed the computer, the phone, and the movie and media industry.
In summary, this book skillfully tells the life of a times-changing leader that embodied the spirit of the 60's and realized this spirit in him and others to recreate whole industries. His love for art and science helped him and others identify themselves with the same cause, as they created products that generations to come will find in art museums. Although the book seemed to be rushed to the printer after Job's death and perhaps needed more editing, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about leadership that changes the times.