Friday, November 4, 2011

Steve Jobs

Nearing the end of his life Steve Jobs reflected on his death with his biographer, Walter Isaacson. He said, I'm about fifty - fifty believing in God. For most of my life I've felt there must be more to our existence than meets the eye." He admitted that since he was near death he might be hedging his bets a bit hoping for some kind of afterlife. He wanted to believe something survives death. "It's strange to think you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away .... but on the other hand, he said, maybe its like an on -off switch and click you are gone." "Maybe that's why I never liked to put on - off switches on Apple devices."

There is no doubt Jobs was a genius and that he influenced our culture more than any other person in the past 50 years. His inventive genius will put him right up there with Ford and Edison. Just look around the next time you are in a group of people and observe how many are holding a product that came from the fertile mind of Steve Jobs. Some might say he didn't really invent anything, he just made some things better. Some might say that he didn't really produce anything people cannot live without. Both statements are true. Yet, he made things people want. He made technology cool for the common person. His products are not for the techno geeks - you cannot get inside an Apple product to take it apart and see how it works. You can't attach all kinds of other devices to it to make it do what you want to do. It does what Steve Jobs wanted it to do because he had an uncanny sense of what you and I wanted it to do. He made a lot of money making things and then showing us how much we wanted them before we knew we wanted them. His genius was partly in that. And partly in knowing how to make technology cool and wanted. He controlled the whole process from creating the idea to designing the product to engineering it to marketing it. What you hold in your hand is exactly the way he wanted it. It is what he wanted. And he made all these products interconnected. The i devices plug into the i computers and sync with itunes where you just purchased the latest media to play or view. He controls the whole experience.

Isaacson explores where this obsession to control came from. Jobs was a controlling CEO who rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. He controlled his diet, his homes and furnishings, his cars, his family - he even took control of his cancer treatment protocols. Isaacson locates this need to control in the fact that Jobs was abandoned by his father. Jobs was never reconciled with his father although he knew who he was. He never forgave him. He never got over it. In a sense, he was never going to leave anything else in his life up to chance. It's odd that he was a risk taker in the steps he took with so many of his products and management decisions. But, he didn't really leave them up to chance. He was involved every step of the way and he had great confidence he could do what he set his mind to. And he could make you do what he set his mind to make you do (after all look at the devices you own). He famously made his employees and "A" teams do much more than they thought they could. In one story, he told the CEO of Corning who ended up making the glass for the iphone that he could meet the specs Jobs wanted in six months time. The Corning CEO told him is was impossible; they didn't even have a plant producing that glass at the time. Jobs told him to get his mind around it and get it done. He did.

Jobs did not make many friends. Or, he lost as many as he made after Jobs alienated them. He didn't seem to care. He didn't need people. He had many admirers but few could get or stay close to him. He was alienated from a daughter he had from a previous relationship and he even abandoned her for many years denying he had any responsibility for her. Later on he was married for 20 years and had three children but he was away from home and their lives a lot. There was a distance between them and their father. One of the reasons he gave his biographer for this book he wanted him to write was so that his children could get to know him because he had not been there for them while he was alive.

There were very few people Jobs trusted. It is hard to think of more than a couple after reading this biography. He surrounded himself with bright people but he was the smartest guy in the room. From very early on he was labeled special and that's the way he saw himself his whole life.

It must have been a kind of shock not to be able to control your own death. He was working on new Apple products right up until the days he was too weak and in so much pain he could not. His spiritual guides were Buddhist principles. It was again about control. He controlled his body through diet and fasting. He didn't smoke or drink (although he credited his use of drugs in earlier days with his bursts of creativity). He had ascetic tendencies to discipline the body in order to nurture the spirit. But, dying is a letting go. No one is in control. Jobs had thought about reincarnation and perhaps he hoped his hopes and dreams would be recycled that way. That's a kind of control, too. But as I read his life there was no mention of faith. Not faith in others and no faith in God. Only a kind of faith in himself.

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford which was after his cancer diagnosis he spoke frankly about death. He said thinking about death was a clarifying experience - it helped him know what was truly important to spend time on. He challenged the Stanford grads to remember their time is limited so they would not waste it living someone else's life. Then he warned them not to be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. In essence, he was saying don't trust anyone but yourself. Trust your heart and your intuition, he told them, nothing or no one else. Those two things know who you want to become.

That was Jobs secular credo; it sums up the way he lived. By many standards Jobs did more than ok for himself. But in the end, the man who left nothing to chance, did not have a clue. Without dogma, or Faith, or the support and prayers of faithful friends, he entered eternity leaving it all to chance.