BOOK REVIEW: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (2011)

This is the hottest business book of the moment and Amazon’s best selling book of 2011. 577 pages look fairly daunting but there is a nice mixture of personal detail and professional development which makes it fairly simple to read.  Jobs was adopted which made him feel “Abandoned”, “Chosen” and “Special.” He frequently got into trouble at school and then dropped out of Reed College in his second year. He had regular temper tantrums and big mood swings but also a remarkable gift for improving products and making them simple to use. He spent hours and hours fussing over tiny details including those legendary ‘spontaneous’ presentations.

The book gives a clear picture of a genius who was almost impossible to live with, a modern day Mozart, if you will. It gives an objective account of his ups and downs at Apple and shows both the strengths and the weaknesses of the man. There is an interesting side story of the rivalry between Jobs and Bill Gates including the latter complaining that while he was saving the world from malaria, the world was more interested in new products created by Jobs! It is an excellent read.

Some keys facts:

The name “Apple” was linked to Jobs’ strange diets. “I was on one of my fruitarian diets,” he explained. “I had just come back from the apple farm. It sounded fun, spirited and not intimidating. Apple took the edge off the word ‘computer’. Plus, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.”

The iMac went on sale in August 1998 for $1,299.  32% of the sales went to people who were buying a computer for the first time.

The Apple Store was created because Jobs didn’t like the idea of not being able to control customers’ experience of buying an Apple product.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do”

Eddy Cue, who was in charge of iTunes, predicted that Apple would sell a million songs in six months. Instead the iTunes store sold a million songs in six days. “This will go down in history as a turning point for the music industry,” Jobs declared.

Jobs was deeply influenced by Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovators Dilemma.

In January 2007 iPod sales were half of Apple’s revenues.

The idea for the iPad actually came before, and helped to shape, the birth of the iPhone.

Jobs was obsessed by creating products that were as thin as possible. That’s why Apple products don’t have replaceable battery.

In less than a month after the launch, Apple sold one million iPads. That was twice as fast as it took the iPhone to reach that mark. By March 2011, nine months after its release, fifteen million had been sold.

“Our job is to figure out what customers are going to want before they do”

The App Store for the iPhone opened on iTunes in July 2008; the billionth download came nine months later.

In May 2000 Apple’s market value was one-twentieth that of Microsoft. In May 2010 Apple surpassed Microsoft as the world’s most valuable technology company, and by September 2011 it was worth 70% more than Microsoft.

While Jobs was in hospital and barely able to breathe, he demanded that 5 different oxygen masks be brought to him to find one with a design that he liked!


Interesting quotes from the book:

 “This is shit!”  This is the one phrase that comes back again and again in the book. I am dubious about it as a management tool and you should definitely avoid it when your boss has just told you about his latest project!

“Picasso had a saying – ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’ – and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

“Steve is the opposite of loyal,” according to Andy Hertzfeld, an early Apple engineer who has nevertheless remained friends with him. “He’s anti-loyal. He has to abandon the people he is close to.”

“Steve wasn’t much of an engineer himself, but he was very good at assessing people’s answers”

One of Jobs’s great strengths was knowing how to focus. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he said. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”

Steve wasn’t much of an engineer himself, but he was very good at assessing people’s answers. He could tell whether the engineers were defensive or unsure of themselves.”

One of Jobs’s business rules was not to be afraid of cannibalizing yourself. “If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will,” he said.

Some people say,”Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry ford once said, “ If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!’” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Anecdotes for a date!

Steve Jobs once drove his girlfriend, John Baez, to Stanford Mall to show her a beautiful red dress that he said would be perfect for her. Baez was a reasonably well known singer but with modest means; Jobs by this time had already sold his shares in Apple for $100 million. Having looked round the store and chosen some shirts for himself, he then suggested to his girlfriend that she should buy the dress for herself!

Gently work this story into the conversion as you take the dress out of your girlfriend’s hand and hand it to the sales assistant with your credit card. Everyone will know who is the bigger man!

Woz Talk

Iterative Path: “Steve Wozniak was at Cal yesterday. Here are some excerpts from Woz. Now you see the difference in career path between Jobs and Woz.”


Business School  Grenoble EM  International Affairs   Higher Education   ESC Grenoble   Strategy  Blog  Global Ed   Graduate Business School    Mark Thomas

See also:

Other Book Reviews

Making the iBio for Apple’s Genius

NY Times: “Mr. Isaacson knows how to explicate and celebrate genius: revered, long-dead genius. But he wrote “Steve Jobs” as its subject was mortally ill, and that is a more painful and delicate challenge.”

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson – review

The Guardian: “As Isaacson makes clear, Jobs wasn’t a visionary or even a particularly talented electronic engineer. But he was a businessman of astonishing flair and focus, a marketing genius, and – when he was getting it right, which wasn’t always – had an intuitive sense of what the customer would want before the customer had any idea.”

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography by Walter Isaacson: review

The Telegraph: “Jobs, reports Isaacson, maintained that he had “no skeletons in his closet that can’t be allowed out”. He didn’t ask to read the book, though he cavilled about the cover design, and he encouraged his biographer not only to continue grilling him on his deathbed, but to speak as extensively as possible to friends and enemies.”

Related Articles

Chinese businesses should rely on Confucius, not Steve Jobs, for management tips

Quartz: “Here’s a tip for the thousands of aspiring Chinese entrepreneurs and CEOs. In a country where bookstores are stacked with translations of foreign management and business books—including Steve Job’s biography and Crack the Talmud: 101 Jewish Business Rules—dusting off a copy of the Analects of Confucius might be the better approach.”

The story of the ups and downs of Starbucks and why Howard Schultz decided to return as CEO. Steve Jobs’ favourite book. Any more questions? If you only ever read one personal development book in your life, read this.


Great book. Advocates the creation of a learning organization as a way of achieving sustainable competitive advantage over your competitors. One of the most important business  books of the 1990s and has been in the best seller list ever since. Fantastic read for anyone thinking about their leadership style. Learn about The IKEA Effect, The Baby Jessica Effect and why large bonuses make CEOs less effective.

Sent from my iPad : the legacy of Steve Jobs
What Steve Jobs Did For Localization


Filed under Book Review, Business, Careers, Innovation, Leadership, Management, Strategy, Technology

12 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson (2011)

  1. Pingback: What Steve Jobs did for Localization

  2. Pingback: - Milengo

  3. Pingback: To get you into the mood for the holidays: EAT by Rick Mereki | GlobalEd

  4. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW “Good Strategy / Bad Strategy” by Richard Rumelt | GlobalEd

  5. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” by Howard Schultz & Joanne Gordon | GlobalEd

  6. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?” by Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. | GlobalEd

  7. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Talent Management : Financial Times Briefings” by Stephen Hoare and Andrew Leigh | GlobalEd

  8. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen | GlobalEd

  9. Pingback: The Smartest Kids in the World are created by the smartest (and bravest) education policy makers. | GlobalEd

  10. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Staying Power: Six Enduring Principles for Managing Strategy and Innovation in an Uncertain World” by Michael A. Cusumano | GlobalEd

  11. Pingback: Do I really need a university degree? Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg and didn’t finish university. Perhaps, but… | GlobalEd

  12. Pingback: BOOK REVIEW: “Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points that Challenge Every Company and Career” by Andrew S. Grove (1996) | GlobalEd

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s