DC at Night

DC at Night

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Flashback: Steve Jobs - Devil or Angel?

Today, we are beginning a new feature in The Price Do DC called Friday Flashback. Each Friday we will repost a story published earlier in our blog, which began in June of 2011. So, if you have read this post before, welcome back. If you are reading this for the 1st time, we hope you enjoy this post blast from our blog past. With the new movie Jobs (about the early life of Apple founder Steve Jobs) being released today, we thought this would be the perfect reposting to begin our new feature.

Ashton Kutcher in the new movie Jobs

1st Posted on November 29, 2011

Sometimes a biographer finds a subject. And sometimes a subject finds a biographer. In 2004, Steve Jobs (in case you have been spending the last decade on Uranus, Jobs is the head of Apple) contacted Walter Isaacson, who, still basking in acclaim from his previous biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton, was considering possibilities for his next book.

"He called me and said, 'why don't you do my book?,'" Isaacson notes. "I thought Franklin, Einstein, Steve. What an arrogant little guy."

Isaacson was no stranger to the 2 powerful sides that were Jobs. He first met the Apple head in 1984 at the office of Time magazine, where he was then employed as editor. "That first day I got to see both sides of his personality," Isaacson says, noting that at the same time he was explaining the beauty of the new Mac computer, Jobs was hurling invectives at Times staffers since they had not chosen him to be their annual Man of the Year. "It was all there... the passion, the drive for perfection, the prickliness," Isaacson says.

After further reflection, Isaacson decided that Jobs would be his next subject and today, with his book Steve Jobs affixed as the #1 best seller in book lists across the country, the decision has proven to be beyond wise. 

Tonight, Isaacson appeared at a packed Politics and Prose bookstore to shed more light on Jobs, who died just weeks before his biography appeared in print, a death that marked a worldwide outpouring of passion for and against the man credited with revolutionizing so many aspects of our digital age.

"Steve Jobs was able to connect the artistic with the engineering. That is the key to what Steve was all about," Isaacson said."He realized simplicity is at the heart of sophistication."

First and foremost, Jobs was a driven perfectionist who would not accept anything less than that from those around him. "That sucks" was a phrase he applied to anything or anyone that didn't meet his standards. He mastered the art of the blinkless stare to intimidate those around him, yet another way to bully and coerce them into doing his bidding. "Don't be afraid, you can do it," Jobs would say with that unsettling, unblinking stare fixed upon his listener.

To emphasize the perfection aspect of Jobs personality, Isaacson told a story from his book. Just as the first Macs were getting ready for distribution, Jobs discovered that  all the circuits in the circuits boards were not lined up perfectly in a straight line. He called the engineering staff together and told them of the problem, a problem they dismissed because the Mac was designed so that no one could take it apart and therefore no one would be able to see the non-aligned circuits. "But I will know and you will know and that is what matters," Jobs said. The circuit boards were aligned. Jobs called all 22 engineers back together and had them affix their names to the inside of the machine. Jobs signed as well. "Real artists sign their work," Jobs told his engineers.  

"People call him an asshole, but he was an asshole who got things done," Isaacson said.

Isaacson said that Jobs always viewed himself as a misfit. That was definitely true in his early family life.  From his years in California, he always "had one foot in the counterculture hippie camp and one foot in the computer geek camp," Isaacson says. Also, there was much of the mystic in Jobs, a trait not normally associated with computer geniuses and great business leaders. 

In the year of his death, Apple was named the most valuable company on earth. But as the man responsible for the 1984 Ridley Scott Mac introduction commercial (which aired only once and is still recognized as the greatest TV commercial ever produced), Pixar, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad, Jobs still struggled with his human side.

Bill Gates, whom Isaacson called a basically decent human being (a title never given to Jobs) came to see his Apple counterpart to say farewell and end their often stormy relationship on a  positve noted. They had a 4-hour conversation. Gates told Issacson that the meeting went well and both had agreed that although they followed very different paths, both of their ultra-opposite business models had worked well.

However, in one of his final conversations with Isaacson, Jobs told quite a different story of the last meeting between the two giants of the digital age. "What an asshole," Jobs said of Gates. "He didn't give a shit. All he did was  make crappy products all his life." 

Tales, Tidbits, and Traveling Tips
Great writing can be great for sales. But great timing can help, too. And, as was pointed out tonight, few writers have ever benefited from such great timing as Isaacson as with his new book. First, you have the writing of Isaacon, already established in his previous best-selling books. Then you have a captivating subject like Jobs, whose company has just achieved the ranking as the #1 in the world.  Then your subject dies just weeks before publication. And then you have the fact that the book is being published right before Christmas, which is always the time of the greatest book sales. And, finally, as if to emphasize all of the above points, you had tonight's crowd, which was clearly the largest we had ever seen and was called one of the largest in the long history of the store. 

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