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Apr 19th

On Becoming Steve Jobs

Like a million other folk, I spent a few evenings engrossed in Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli’s book. I took my time about it, pacing myself to let it sink in rather than powering through it in a couple of sittings.

And like a fair amount of them, I formed my own opinion of it. I had the benefit of reading Catmull’s book last year, and that and the official biography provided some insights into Steve’s character and drive. Becoming Steve Jobs complements them by going a little deeper and offering a different perspective on how and why things happened, and what surfaces is a broad overview of how and why Steve grew as a businessman and how his time at NeXT and Pixar tempered him.

It strikes me not so much a book about Steve himself (his personal side is depicted more subtly and indirectly - that is to say, probably less starkly than in Isaacson’s book), but more about his drive and the way he came to leverage and tune it to shape the industry.

Is it an accurate depiction? Maybe. It is true that Schlender had access to Steve for decades and that he definitely understood the context and motivations behind many of the things that took place.

For instance, it was interesting to read a little more into the background stories behind iTunes, Disney’s acquisition of Pixar and why AT&T acquiesced to the iPhone deal (some of which I had read or heard about over the years).

And there is a lot more (and much more realistic) accounting of the years churning away and rounding off the sharp edges of prototypes, processes and culture that shape today’s Apple, which is a refreshing take on things that bears noting (and praising).

But you can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) read just this book - in retrospect, the original bio, Creativity Inc. and Becoming Steve Jobs are a triptych that depicts a broad cross-section of Steve’s impact on our industry, and all forcibly fall a little short of providing a complete picture of who he was1.

Harnessing creativity, honing management skills and relenteless, iterative improvements are all things we could all learn to do better, and I think you’ll gain a fair amount of insights into all of those if you spare the time to read all three books.

  1. Although this book does provide a more rounded take on his personality, nobody will ever really know him as well as his family and friends - and that, I think, is the way it should be. 

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