Shortly after the biography of Steve Jobs came out but before I started reading it, I mentioned to my boss and friend Levi Smith that I was intrigued by the excerpts I had seen so far about Isaacson’s book.
Levi quietly commented that while there were many good things accomplished by Jobs, there were some real deficiencies as well.
He was right. Reading that biography was stimulating, but it was also enlightening, because far more of us will labor and toil under relative anonymity, with little impact on the world at large. But we need to take stock of the things Jobs did poorly or even terribly because those are things that more of us can actually excel at.
For instance generosity. Steve Jobs was famously un-philanthropic (is that even a word?). Perhaps it is better said that he was not charitable at all, nor generous. To anyone. Ever.
A few stories stick out that illustrate the point. At one point in his life, Jobs dated the singer Joan Baez. She recounted to Isaacson a story about Jobs hauling her down to an upscale dress store in San Francisco. He was, by this time, already a very wealthy man. He takes her into the store, and shows her a very beautiful dress, and basically says she will just look wonderful in the dress. But, despite his praise for what she looked like, he ended the jaunt to the store not by buying the dress; he told Baez she should buy it.
Another story relates to one of the very first Apple employees. Once the company had become successful in the 80s, the original team began to be rewarded with shares of company stock. One team member, Andy Hertzfeld, ran afoul of Jobs and for his trouble was intentionally excluded from receiving shares of Apple by Jobs. Those shares would be worth hundreds of millions of dollars today.
Another deficiency is Jobs’ well known deficiencies as a father. He essentially abandoned his first child, a daughter, until years after her birth. Once married and having started a family, Jobs was manifestly missing in many aspects of his children’s lives. It was only after being stricken with cancer that he began to give serious attention to his family life.
I don’t write this to attack Jobs, but to help people understand that there won’t be many people who make as large an impact on the world as did Steve Jobs. But the manner in which we treat people, from friends to subordinates to spouses to children, is something all of us will have the ability to provide a positive impact.
What are your thoughts on the biography of Steve Jobs?