Wednesday, January 04, 2012

From inside the "Reality Distortion Field"

I just finished the Steve Jobs biography, by Walter Isaacson, and I am blown away by Jobs. Before reading the bio, I had this vague sense of Jobs as a nice guy who was the Apple CEO/tech genius passionate about introducing revolutionary Apple products. I felt indebted to him for the beautiful Apple products that I own. I felt loyal to Apple. Post bio, I realize that I was completely wrong about him being a "nice guy" (or anything resembling kind and caring), and I completely underestimated his role at Apple, his influence on technology and the digital age, and his contributions to marketing, industrial design, product packaging, retail stores, music, corporate identity, and animation. I also underestimated the role that people around him played in the success of Apple.

He was not a nice guy. And apparently I'm the last person to hear this. (I've been working Steve Jobs into conversation recently, relaying how interesting I found the bio, and when I say something about him being an awful guy, everyone seems to say, "yeah, I heard that.") According to Isaacson (backed by first-hand experience, dozens of interviews, and Jobs' own self-assessment), Jobs was self-centered, had an awful temper, was incredibly stubborn, regularly berated intelligent engineers for their "crap" work, was often cold and calculating, and largely neglected his family. I feel like I'm sugar coating things.

But, when it comes down to it, he had a vision for what Apple could be and for the products it could produce, and he seemed to work miracles. He helped Apple to focus on creating a few high-quality products, and to make these products user-friendly, seamless, solidly engineered from end-to-end, and flawlessly designed. When he returned to Apple in the late 90s, their stock was under $10 a share. Today it's $411 a share. Pretty amazing. Isaacson somehow manages to balance Jobs' professional success and intensely flawed personality, realistically portraying him as a complex and imperfect genius of his own kind.

I just started to type the sentence "What impressed me most about Jobs was . . . " and I realized there are multiple things that really impressed me: Jobs' minimalistic approach to life, his drive towards simplicity when making a product, his emphasis on design, his reliance on intuition rather than logic, his ability to demand excellence of people, and his ability to anticipate changes in technology. Luckily, Jobs isn't the only genius at Apple, and, in the process of making me a bigger fan of Jobs' professional work, the bio also made me a huge fan of Apple's lead designer, Jony Ive.

As I continue to wax overly sentimental, more than ever I feel loyal to the kind of products that Apple strives to create, and, after learning about how the products I have owned came to be, I feel a deeper appreciation for my Apple products:

And now:
And the fact that I'm so freely buying into Jobs' vision and the Apple brand seems like a testament to the power of his famous "reality distortion field," which is what those close to him labeled his ability to sweep people into his own version of reality. The power of his reality distortion lives on. Or, maybe he genuinely created an excellent company that deserves my gushing and fierce loyalty. I really can't tell. 

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