I recently finished reading a book entitled Inside Steve’s Brain. “Steve” of course, is referring to Steve Jobs, the legendary founder and current CEO of Apple Computers, Inc. This book delves into perhaps one of the most interesting and unique minds of Silicon Valley, at least from the standpoint of business savvy. The book itself is short in length, but long in detail about the eccentric habits and philosophy of Steve Jobs.
The author Leander Kahney, it should be noted, is a news editor at Wired magazine, a contributor to MacWeek before that, as well as the author of the books Cult of Mac and Cult of iPod. He’s also been running a blog whose name was borrowed for one of his books, namely, Cult of Mac. So when the better part of one’s career has been spent covering Apple products and news, you might start to suspect that maybe they’ve drank the proverbial Kool-Aid and joined the Cult.
But after reading the book (which didn’t take more that 10 hours in total), I came away with a sense that Kahney didn’t overplay Steve’s tantrums or personality quirks as so many before him have done. Kahney, it seemed, spent the required time to document and criticize Steve’s personality flaws, and then moved on. I was glad he did so, as the marketing and design genius behind Steve’s actions is what has fascinated business analysts and technology pundits for the better part of the past two decades, not his tantrums.
The portrait Kahney paints of Steve is more as an artist than a technologist. Silicon Valley’s pioneers, for the most part, were geeks who were at least partly responsible for their technological innovations. Steve, however, was not (his friend and computer genius Steve Wozniak crafted the first Apple computer). But Steve has been able to surround himself, through a generous use of his charisma, with intelligent and talented people who have created some masterworks of technology, entertainment, and design (I sense a TED conference reference here). Steve’s ability to envision a product for consumers before they know what they want has been instrumental in Apple’s success. (Who could have imagined that they wanted a computer before they were invented?) But such foresight would be worthless were it not for his passion for designing and crafting Apple’s products to be works of functional art.
What Kahney spends a good deal of the book describing is Steve’s close attention to detail, and firm belief in creating truly great and beautifully designed products, not just something that will sell. Such elitist thinking prevented Apple from capitalizing on it’s early success in the computer business. But the computer industry has come full circle. Apple’s high quality standards, consumer-focused intuitive interfaces, and aesthetic design have launched Apple to the forefront and have made it the industry leader to be emulated.
Steve’s leadership at Apple has been almost unparalleled by any other technology company, with only the Japanese giant Sony matching Apple’s leadership. This is especially the case in the past decade after Steve’s return to Apple after being ousted in 1985 by Apple’s Board of Directors. Steve managed to bring Apple back from the brink (6 months from going under), and has had the company firing on all cylinders since then. Steve re-organized the company, streamlined the development and design process, and vastly reduced the number of systems in Apple’s product lineup – a bold move at the time, but it has had a tremendously positive effect.
Inside Steve’s Brain was a good, short bio of one of our generation’s biggest business influences and progenitor of the iPod generation. The book does not warrant more than one read-through, as the material is more like a really, really long Wired Magazine article than a heavily-researched and in-depth biography. But for what it provides, Kahney has composed a work that is difficult to come by: a tone-neutral analysis of the genius and methodology of Steve Jobs.
Until next time, bonnes pensées.