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Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Book Review of the Week-ish)

So I finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson’s amazing biography of Steve Jobs. It’s a fascinating look at a fascinating man.

Part of what I found so interesting is the scale of Jobs’ flaws relative to his gifts. Most people have heard about Jobs’ prickly nature, his treatment of subordinates (and just about everyone else, when it suited him), or how his odd eating habits may have contributed to his death.

But few things illustrate Jobs’ shortcomings more than the stories detailing the man’s relationships with his children. One of the more telling insights occurs late in the book, as Jobs is dying of cancer. Isaacson recounts asking Jobs—a man notoriously in control of his image—why he agreed to a biography that would undoubtedly show his blemishes as well as his brilliance:

“I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted to know why and to understand what I did. Also, when I got sick, I realized other people would write about me if I died, and they wouldn’t know anything. They’d get it all wrong. So I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say.” [Emphasis mine]

Now, most people, when they want their kids to know them would choose to spend time with their children. They would work to rebuild damaged relationships. They would take an interest in what their kids were doing.

Jobs opted for a biographer.

To be fair, he may have realized too late just how poorly he’d done these things and realized he didn’t have enough time to choose the traditional route. But I found it amazing that a man famous for his “reality distortion field,” accustomed to asserting his will to challenge conventional wisdom and assumed “facts,” couldn’t reconcile his role as a CEO with his role as a parent.

Obviously, as both an entrepreneur and a father, this topic resonates for me. I have never built a company as large or as influential as Apple or Pixar. But I see no reason you can’t build a great company and raise great kids (again, to be fair, it seems Jobs’ kids are pretty well adjusted, in large part due to his wife Laurene).

And it’s this dichotomy between Jobs’ passions and problems that make me recommend it for every entrepreneur, manager and business leader. Because again and again I found myself asking:

  • “Do you have to be a prick to produce results?”
  • “Do you always have to abandon people to move forward?”
  • “What do you have to sacrifice for greatness?”

Isaacson never suggests that Jobs’ way is the only way. Actually, quite the contrary. But he does engage the reader to ask these questions of themselves. And that’s definitely worth the read. Grab a copy for yourself and get ready to learn more about Steve Jobs. And more about yourself.

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