Why Apple execs support the new Steve Jobs biography

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Becoming Steve Jobs': Apple approves of this biography.

When Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” was published in 2011, millions rushed to get copies of the biography of the Apple chief executive who had died just a month earlier. A new biography of Steve Jobs – “Becoming Steve Jobs” by Rick Tetzeli and Brent Schlender – is garnering words of approval from some involved with Apple.Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about Steve Jobs, a new book is about to set the record straight with some help from Apple. Graced by a portrait of Jobs staring down the photographer with a mixture of Zen-like calm and fierce intelligence, the book quickly became a bible of sorts for many who revered the late entrepreneur as a visionary for the ages.

CEO Tim Cook, design head Jony Ive, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior VP of software and services, have all publicly bashed Walter Isaacson’s official look at Jobs, which was published after his death in 2011. Jobs picked Isaacson to write his biography and didn’t exert any editorial control over the end result, which painted the Apple cofounder in a largely unflattering light. “I thought the Isaacson book did him a tremendous disservice,” Cook said in a new Becoming Steve Jobs excerpt published in Fast Company. Well done and first to get it right.” Apple’s iBooks account also tweeted last week that “Becoming Steve Jobs is the only book about Steve recommended by the people who knew him best.” The book-on-book criticism is a rare public cavalcade from Apple executives, who under Jobs kept quiet about the company’s activities.

It shows the lengths that Apple is going in its effort to reshape the posthumous image of Jobs as a kinder spirit, rather than a one-dimensional mercurial and brash chief. Lei Jun, CEO of Chinese smartphone startup Xiaomi was such a fan of Jobs he emulates the iconic leader right down to the black shirt and jeans and “one last thing” tease during product announcements. But it’s emphatically untrue that he wasn’t a great human being, and that is totally not understood.” Random House says Apple — famously wary of the press — gave Schlender and Tetzeli access to Jobs’ family, “former inner circle executives, and top people at Apple, Pixar and Disney, most notably Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue, Ed Catmull, John Lasseter, Robert Iger and many others.” “Yes, he was very passionate about things, and he wanted things to be perfect,” Cook says about Jobs in the book. “And that was what was great about him.

In return, the authors let the company read the finished version before publication, though Apple wasn’t allowed to make any changes that weren’t related to factual errors. As Apple’s (AAPL) former communications veep Allison Johnson put it, “The thing that Steve did better than anyone else is, he was his authentic self,” she told an audience of entrepreneurs, “We don’t need more Apples. We need more you.” Indeed, successful executives and business leaders are the ones that strive to become the best version of themselves, not a clone of someone else. That said, there are a number of principles that Jobs infused into Apple’s culture that I think are somewhat fundamental to innovative companies and definitely worth understanding.

The book captures Steve better than anything else we’ve seen, and we are happy we decided to participate.” We plan to read and review the book to find out if it’s worth reading if you’ve already read Steve Jobs, watched the Ashton Kutcher movie, and seen the new documentary (which Cue did not like). The book was generally well received, including in The Chronicle, whose review said it “provides an irresistible glimpse into his complex and often contradictory life.”

In an interview, Isaacson, chief executive of the Aspen Institute and a former managing editor of Time, said he had tried to take a balanced view of Jobs that did not sugar-coat the Apple co-founder’s flaws. If the success of Silicon Valley innovators like Intel and Apple has taught us anything, it’s that common wisdom – how things are done and how they should be done – should be challenged at every turn.

Once you have a unique culture that works, you want to use it as a model for new-hires, teach it to newcomers, and reinforce that behavior throughout the organization, from top to bottom. The biography proved enormously popular, selling more than 3 million copies in the US alone. “My book is very favourable and honest, with no anonymous slings,” Isaacson said, adding that he was criticized at times for being too soft on his subject. He also said Jobs instilled “this nonacceptance of the status quo” through his actions more than his words, an interesting counterpoint to today’s overemphasis on leadership communication. We all get inspiration from role models and ideas from mentors, but at some point each of us has to sort of leave the nest and make our own mark on the world.

Over the past six months, Apple executives have been on an extensive media campaign to promote new retail stores, the Apple Watch and Apple Pay, a new mobile payment service. That wholesale abandonment of vertical integration led to widespread horizontal specialization that’s most evident in the personal computer and Google Android ecosystems. Apple’s core product differentiation is that it alone owns the entire user experience by taking complete responsibility for the software, hardware and services. Cue has become a vocal defender of Jobs’ legacy, too, and he took to Twitter recently to criticize the filmmaker Alex Gibney’s new documentary about the former Apple chief as “an inaccurate and mean-spirited view of my friend.

Being vertical is “the magic of Apple,” Cook says, ”Without collaboration, you get a Windows product.” Our society sees too much in black and white terms. Cook calls the technology industry’s obsession with having the most clicks, active users, and unit sales “almost a disease.” Jobs, however, wasn’t focused on making the most but on making the absolute best products.

That’s also how the company has the discipline to make bold decisions like changing connectors and storage media, decisions that are not necessarily popular at the time. And while you can’t replicate what they did or change the world exactly as they did, these insights can play a role in building a career and a company that is as uniquely and genuinely yours. Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive and author of the upcoming book, “Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur.” Contact Tobak.

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