Friday, 4 May 2012
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do.
Usually I am against quotes that are so overused that even hearing them makes my stomach turn upside down. However, Steve Jobs' famous quote is not only inspirational for many people; it is a sentence, which summarizes in 19 words the amazing, controversial, turbulent, and eventful life of one of the most important people of the 20th (and 21st so far) century. And I am not exaggerating even a bit.
The madness around Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson stroke Bulgaria around Christmas. I wouldn't lie if say that each and everyone of my acquaintances bought this book as a gift to someone. Our family, being traditional (and rather unoriginal) followed this trend and gave the biography to my grandparents. Months later, as I come back home, I saw it standing in our own library. Whether or not (NOT) anyone read it, I am not to judge. But after the hustle and the obsession was gone, I felt it was time for me to read this "so-good" book.
I was skeptical, to be honest. I expected a sugar-coated over-exaggerated and unrealistic image of Steve Jobs, where he was more or less a saint. Instead, I was presented with what I thought to be a rather objective, comprehensive, and thorough image of Jobs, with his flaws and qualities, with his mistakes and successes, with his arrogance and gentleness, with his absurdity and logic. I must say I like Jobs even more now, because Isaacson gives a portrait of a human being - so controversial, so rude and harsh, so insensitive and brutal at times, but a human genius.
Abandoned and chosen. That's how little Steve's life starts when his Catholic mother is forced to give him for adoption. Getting pregnant from a Syrian muslim and living in a conservative society rules out abortion. The only condition Jobs' mum had was that he is to be adopted by people with a degree. Unfortunately, her wish is not fulfilled and Jobs' parents are regular working people from the Sicilian valley. His father, a mechanic, gaves Jobs his first lessons in the importance of perfection and completeness, a lesson Steve is going to remember all life and apply to all of the products of Apple. Being adopted is a complex of Jobs throughout all of his life; ironically he also abandons his first child and for years refuses to take responsibility as a father.
Growing up in the peak of the Sexual revolution, Jobs is hardly a saint. For years he takes LCD, claiming that the drug helped him open his senses to a lot of possibilities and unleashing his imagination. He lives in a closed community based on the idea "sharing is caring" (in every sense of the world), he is a huge fan of Dylan and the Beatles, he gets crazy about Buddhism and even visits India in search of spirituality, he rejects conformism and control; he is a hippie and a rebel in every sense of the word. At about this time, Jobs also becomes a strict vegetarian, a mania that is going to follow him all his life. In fact, he was so obsessed that he showered only once a week, claiming that if one doesn't eat meat, one doesn't smell. The result was a dirty and smelly hippie, who people found it hard to trust until of course he spoke and his passion won them over.
Among the drugs, the sex, the music, and the spirituality, Jobs is fascinated by the advancement of technology. Born in the Sicilian valley, the center of technological companies, he witnesses the birth of HP, Microsoft, Dell, etc. and is excited about the possibilities these developments could offer. You all know the story of how Apple was found in his father's garage. Well, it's true. Along with his best friend, also Steve, Jobs puts the beginning of what is to become one of the most successful companies in the world. You've also heard criticisms that he wasn't the one who invented the first computer. Well, that's also true. However, without Jobs' business mind, without his ability to sell things at high profit margines, without his persistance, arrogance, and brutality, this computer would be still standing in a small garage and I would never expect my dad to give me an iPad for my birthday in 15 days.
The biography follows the agony and the ecstasy of the controversial Jobs. His first years in Apple, his release, the foundation of NeXT and Pixar, everything that Steve touches is predestined to become a great company. So what does Jobs have that many of his opponents don't? I would say passion and perfection. Throughout his career he was always passionate for the products he was making and he strongly believed that these products are going to change the world and the way we perceive it. Interestingly, he hated marketing studies. One of his famous thoughts goes something like: "Why would we ask the customers what they want? They don't know what they want. They will know they want it when we give it to them." A rather controversial approach to the theory of marketing, but if you think about it, we never knew we wanted an iPod, an iPad, or an iPhone before Jobs showed us we wanted it.
Nevertheless, he was an arrogant bastard. He constantly rejected people's ideas before they even got the chance to justify them. If they were good, later he would claim them as his own. His employees lived in Jobs'distorted reality where "impossible" was not acceptable. Even though Steve was brutal and insensitive, he managed to ignite people with his passion, to motivate them to do what seemed impossible at first sight, and to get them on board to make "the best products". And even though his means were rather harsh, he mostly succeeded. I am one who believes that the means justify the end. And indeed, all of the people that worked beneath him admitted that even though at the times it was stressful and impossible to work with him, whenever a product was finished, they all felt a part of something great. Another one of Jobs's strengths.
If you own any of Apple's products, you must have noticed that they Xtimes better looking (and better working!) than most of the others. Throughout his career, Jobs was obsessed with perfection, a quality he inherited from his father. Even the bolts inside the computer, which no consumer would ever see, needed to be perfect. He spent hours and days choosing among colors, configurations, and models to make sure he took the best decision. Jobs was such a perfectionist that for years he didn't furnish his home. He simply couldn't find anything he liked. From the products to the shops, everything Steve touched needed to be perfect.
On top of that perfection, he was the first one to combine hardware and software. One of Apple's strengths, undoubtedly, is that all of the departments worked together to produce the products. In contrast, most other companies had separated their functions, which didn't communicate effectively between each other. Jobs, on the other hand, insisted that designers, engineers, and marketers work closely together. In fact, however, sometimes the designers had the final word, since for Jobs the outlook of the product was certainly very important. Then, engineers had to invent the technology, which sometimes was much more expensive. Nevertheless, Jobs believed this was the right way to go. And he certainly was right.
Yes, he was a human being and he had his flaws. He abandoned his first daughter, he didn't spend enough time with his family, he treated badly his employees, and he was always right. However, to be a genius and to leave a mark after you're gone, you have to be all of this. You have to be even more. Jobs was abandoned and chosen, criticized and praised, hated and loved, but everyone agrees he is one of the greatest business minds of our century. And his legacy will be remembered. He changed the world, something he was crazy enough to do.