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Steve Jobs Book Summary – Walter Isaacson

What you will learn from reading Steve Jobs:

– The elements of Steves’ design philosophy that he brought to apple.

– Insight into Jobs personality including how he was deeply flawed and lied a lot!

– Jobs’ thoughts on innovation and why he likes how software is fluid and flexible.

Steve Jobs Book Summary:

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson is an amazing insight into the life of Steve Jobs. It reveals all, his strengths, his flaws and his idiosyncrasies. As well as providing the much needed context to understand how Jobs was ousted from Apple and then reinstated. It provides great information on his thinking around design, innovation and entrepreneurship and all aspiring entrepreneurs especially in the tech industry should read it.


Job’s Design Philosophy:


Intuitive Design:

“The main thing in our design is that we have to make things intuitively obvious,” Jobs told a crowd of design mavens.


The products Essence:

That was the fundamental principle Jobs and Jonny Ive (apples head of design) shared. Design was not just about what a product looked like on the surface. It had to reflect the product’s essence.

“We don’t like to think of our knives as being glued together,” Ive said. “Steve and I care about things like that, which ruin the purity and detract from the essence of something like a utensil, and we think alike about how products should be made to look pure and seamless.”



From his father Jobs had learned that a hallmark of passionate craftsmanship is making sure that even the aspects that will remain hidden are done beautifully.



Apple’s first brochure proclaimed “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” Jobs had aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquering complexities, not ignoring them. “It takes a lot of hard work,” he said, “to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions.”

Jonny Ive described his philosophy: Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.


Example of his approach to simplicity:

After looking at a bunch of screenshots, Jobs jumped up, grabbed a marker, and drew a simple rectangle on a whiteboard. “Here’s the new application,” he said. “It’s got one window. You drag your video into the window. Then you click the button that says ‘Burn.’ That’s it. That’s what we’re going to make.” Evangelist was dumbfounded, but it led to the simplicity of what became iDVD.


An iterative approach to design:

There are no formal design reviews, so there are no huge decision points. Instead, Apple can make the decisions fluid. Since they iterate every day and never have ‘dumb-ass; presentations, they don’t run into major disagreements.


Job’s had a vision of where technology was going:

“I came to work with Steve for a week,” Lin recalled. “I asked him, Why do computers look like clunky TV sets? Why don’t you make something thin? Why not a flat laptop? ” Jobs replied that this was indeed his goal, as soon as the technology was ready.

“When technology enables something new, he wants to take advantage of that,” said Johnson. “Plus, for Steve, less is always more, simpler is always better. Therefore, if you can build a glass box with fewer elements, it’s better, it’s simpler, and it’s at the forefront of technology. That’s where Steve likes to be, in both his products and his stores.”


‘Real Artists Sign their work’

When the finished mac design was finally locked in, Jobs called the Macintosh team together for a ceremony. “Real artists sign their work,” he said. So he got out a sheet of drafting paper and a Sharpie pen and had all of them sign their names. The signatures were engraved inside each Macintosh.

No one would ever see them, but the members of the team knew that their signatures were inside, just as they knew that the circuit board was laid out as elegantly as possible.


Job’s Vertical Integration Philosophy:

There was a philosophical component, one that was related to his penchant for control. He believed that for a computer to be truly great, its hardware and its software had to be tightly linked. When a computer was open to running software that also worked on other computers, it would end up sacrificing some functionality. The best products, he believed, were “whole widgets” that were designed end-to-end, with the software closely tailored to the hardware and vice versa.

“Our method was to develop integrated products, and that meant our process had to be integrated and collaborative,” Jobs said.

This approach also applied to key hires. He would have candidates meet the top leaders- Cook, Tevanian, Schiller, Rubinstein, Ive-rather than just the managers of the department where they wanted to work.

“In the end, you just don’t want someone else to control a big part of the user experience. People may disagree with me, but I am pretty consistent about that.” Jobs

Jobs did not organise Apple into semiautonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom line. “We don’t have divisions’ with their own P&L,” said Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.”


Bill Gates Vs Steve Jobs:

Beneath their personal rivalry-and occasional grudging respect was their basic philosophical difference. Jobs believed in an end-to-end integration of hardware and software, which led him to build a machine that was not compatible with others. Gates believed in, and profited from, a world in which different companies made machines that were compatible with one another; their hardware ran a standard operating system


Job’s lied a lot:

Why did Jobs mislead Amelio about selling the shares? One reason is simple: Jobs sometimes avoided the truth. Helmut Sonnenfeldt once said of Henry Kissinger, “He lies not because it’s in his interest, he lies because it’s in his nature.” It was in Jobs’s nature to mislead or be secretive when he felt it was warranted. But he also indulged in being brutally honest at times, telling the truths that most of us sugarcoat or suppress.

Both the dissembling and the truth-telling were simply different aspects of his Nietzschean attitude that ordinary rules didn’t apply to him.


Job’s had a penchant for binary thinking:

This attitude arose partly out of his tendency to see the world in binary terms. A person was either a hero or a bozo, a product was either amazing or shit. But he could be stymied by things that were more complex, shaded, or nuanced: getting married, buying the right sofa, for committing to run a company. In addition, he didn’t want to be set failure. “I think Steve wanted to assess whether Apple could be saved,” up Fred Anderson said.


Job’s believed in the basics:

What Jobs said when he came back to Apple. “What we’re trying to do is not highfalutin. We’re trying to get back to the basics of great products, great marketing, and great distribution. Apple has drifted away from doing the basics really well.”


The Complete Customer Experience – Designing opening Apple Products:

Whether it’s an iPod Mini or a MacBook Pro, Apple customers know the feeling of opening up the well-crafted box and finding the product nestled in an inviting fashion. “Steve and I spend a lot of time on the packaging,” said Ive. “I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.”


Jonny Ives on adding a handle to the iMac:

‘If people weren’t comfortable with technology. If you’re scared of something, then you won’t touch it. I could see my mum being scared to touch it. So I thought, if there’s this handle on it, it makes a relationship possible. It’s approachable. It’s intuitive. It gives you permission to touch. It gives a sense of its deference to you.’


Communication strategies and Innovation:

Steve Jobs: ‘If Apple is going to succeed, we’re going to win on innovation. And you can’t win on innovation unless you have a way to communicate to customers.’


Designing the Apple Store:

Johnson said that the size of a store signaled the importance of the brand. “Is Apple as big of a brand as the Gap?” he asked. Jobs said it was much bigger. Johnson replied that its stores should therefore be bigger.

“Otherwise you won’t be relevant.” Jobs described Mike Markkula’s maxim that a good company must “impute”-it must convey its values and importance in everything it does, from packaging to marketing.

He emphasised that a customer should be able to walk into a retail space and, with one sweep of the eye, understand the flow. Jobs agreed that simplicity and lack of distractions were keys to a great store, as they were to a product.


Jobs Insights on the purpose of a computer:

Jobs had another insight: If the computer served as the hub, it would allow the portable devices to become simpler. A lot of the functions that the devices tried to do, such as editing the video or pictures, they did poorly because they had small screens and could not easily accommodate menus filled with lots of functions. Computers could handle that more easily.

The idea of the digital hub quickly came into focus. “I first understood this with the camcorder,” Jobs said. “Using iMovie makes your camcorder ten times more valuable.”

The beauty of this realisation was that there was only one company that was well-positioned to provide such an integrated approach. Microsoft wrote software, Dell and Compaq made hardware, Sony produced a lot of digital devices, Adobe developed a lot of applications. But only Apple did all of these things. “We’re the only company that owns the whole widget-the hardware, the software and the operating system,” he explained to Time. “We can take full responsibility for the user experience. We can do things that the other guys can’t do.”

*What development in technology could make this more valuable or less valuable? What would increase the value of this product?


The designing of the iPod:

Once the project was launched, Jobs immersed himself in it daily. His main demand was “Simplify!” He would go over each screen of the user interface and apply a rigid test: If he wanted a song or a function, he should be able to get there in three clicks. And the click should be intuitive. If he couldn’t figure out how to navigate to something, or if it took more than three clicks, he would be brutal.


Jobs on cannibalisation and innovation:

The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but also that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.

One of Jobs’s business rules was to never be afraid of cannibalising yourself “If you don’t cannibalise yourself, someone else will,” he said. So even though an iPhone might cannibalise sales of an iPod, or an iPad might cannibalise sales of a laptop, that did not deter him.

Jobs: “I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies like IBM or Microsoft. The company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesmen, because they re the ones who can move the needle on revenues, not the product engineers and designers. So the salespeople end up running the company.”


Software allows for fluidity and flexibility:

“Think of all the innovations we’d be able to adapt if we did the keyboard onscreen with software. Let’s bet on it, and then we’ll find a way to make it work.” The result was a device that displays a numerical pad when you want to dial a phone number, a typewriter keyboard when you want to write, and whatever buttons you might need for each particular activity. And then they all disappear when you’re watching a video. By having software replace hardware, the interface became fluid and flexible.


Usability and broken Tools:

In his piece Grossman correctly noted that the iPhone did not really invent many new features, it just made these features a lot more usable. “But that’s important. When our tools don’t work, we tend to blame ourselves, for being too stupid or not reading the manual or having too-fat fingers…. When our tools are broken, we feel broken. And when somebody fixes one, we feel a tiny bit more whole.”