: New: Book Report: Steve Jobs

About twenty years ago, I switched from using a Macintosh to Windows. I was surprised at how much easier the Windows machine was to use. I was a Mac user, I'd listen to a bunch of other Mac users all tell each other how much easier Macs were to use, that Windows was made by people who just Didn't Get It. But I'd been wrong: when I tried to get things done with a computer, it was easier with the Windows machine.

Now I guess I know how that happened. I read the big Steve Jobs biography. Jobs wasn't a designer, wasn't a maker, but he was a tastemaker. He didn't have much use for tools. He made decisions by looking at choices, by holding models. He loved things that he would use himself. But what activities did he do himself? He went to meetings, looked at demos. He loved designs that looked sleek, but didn't much care whether the designed-things did something useful: he had people to do things for him.

The biography's pretty interesting. You get a glimpse of what hippy stuff had turned into by the 1970s; some of it was sweet and sincere, but there were plenty of con artists out there... scary intense charismatic folks who amassed money and followers largely through force of personality. Some might take these folks as negative examples for how to be, but not everybody did. Jobs was mean, and it's interesting to see how the people around him dealt with that. He lied a lot, and this book catches him out in some of that. Still, you find yourself rooting for the guy. You keep wanting him to find some peace. It was sad to read that he turned to fake medicine when he found out he was sick, to read about his decline.

So far I've nattered on about things he did poorly. Here's something he did well, something that this bio points out: when he spotted a big problem in a product, even a product that was nearly out the door, he'd go back and revise. He'd scuttle schedules to make sure that he shipped something up to his standards. At other companies, that doesn't happen. Products have a momentum, there's a sunk cost fallacy, for whatever reason folks say, "Never mind that, we're sticking with the plan." Jobs would dig in his heels and insist that the whatever-it-is be fixed (and fixed to his standard) before shipping. I admired his guts there.

Tags: book

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