Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tech Tuesday: Lessons for Leaders from Brent Schlender's Becoming Steve Jobs

It's already been five years since Walter Isaacson's biography Steve Jobs became a NYTimes bestseller. When I reviewed the book in 2012 I concluded, "This eye-opening page-turner is as exciting as any novel."

So when I discovered an audio version of Becoming Steve Jobs at our library two weeks ago, I had two immediate thoughts. First, what more can Brent Schlender say that hasn't already been said? Second, even if there's nothing new I would like to read his story again and see what new pearls I might find. It turned out to be a good decision, because there was plenty new to learn.

The full title is Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. Author Brent Schlender is an award-winning career journalist who made his mark writing profiles of high-profile entrepreneurs and business leaders in the digital revolution, including two decades as bureau chief and editor-in-chief at Fortune magazine. One can tell early on that he has had close up access to Jobs for a very long time.

The structure of the book is linear, beginning with the birth of Apple. But this is not a book about what happened. It is the story of Steve Jobs' education, the events that served to produce one of the great leaders of our time.

In point of fact, according to Jim Collins, author of the bestselling business books Good to Great and Built To Last, there have only been two truly great visionary leaders of the past century, Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill. Each of these men had experienced great failure early in their careers, and each developed a relentlessness and resilience that enabled them to re-emerge as leaders and accomplish great things.

The author's aim was not to assemble anecdotes and Apple trivia. Rather, his stories are shared with an aim to provide lessons that will have value to all of us. One example is the Steve Jobs observation that it's only in hindsight that we can "connect the dots on how things happened," whether in our lives or in business.

It is well known that Steve Jobs was a massive Bob Dylan fan. On one occasion Jobs described to the author the difference between artists and everyone else. "The artistic spirit is willing to take risks." The artist is willing to go out on a limb and risk failure in order to achieve his or her vision. Steve Jobs got this insight about himself, as an artist, by watching Dylan perform. He saw that Dylan was continuously re-inventing his songs, going different places in his performances, challenging himself and his band. It was not about the money. The true artist is always risking failure. Picasso and Dylan were true artists, Steve Jobs pointed out.

* * * *

Insights from the Steve Jobs story are too numerous to list. Here are a few to whet your appetite in the hopes that you will find a way to read or listen to this book.

1. Jobs' passion for and investment in Pixar was a key component of its success. Schender shows how putting together a solid team is the foundation for miracles.

2. Many achievements were directly related to key partnerships between Steve and various individuals whose talents were affirmed within this relational context. What they accomplished was remarkable, Jobs being the catalyst. He surrounded himself with people smarter than himself and though he demanded a lot, when he had matured he gave them the freedom to push back. No yes-men. They all had a say and worked together to accomplish what needed to be done.

3. Very early on what Steve Jobs saw in his head was an early version of the Internet of Things (IoT) with the Macintosh at the center of a wheel as the hub, all the other elements connected to the hub like spokes. The consumer goods became consumer touch points.

4. Every consumer touchpoint, whether ads or iPhones or iPods and iPads or iTunes downloads, was part of a whole which Steve Jobs saw as The Apple Experience. This Apple Experience was designed to lead people into discovering how easy it is to interface with Apple products. Both easy and elegant.

5. Possibly the most notable product of his life was the iPhone, a product he personally may have not wanted to pursue, but his team had been given the green light and it went on to transform the applications business.

6.  Steve knew that even he had underestimated the potential of consumer electronics. Once this phase of the company began to explode, Apple steadily improved the experience of enjoying and managing music, photos and videos on personal electronic devices making the various technologies coherent in a way that no other company came even close to matching.

7. "The Apple Experience was an unprecedented merger of marketing and technology excellence" designed to make customers want to come back for more "This was a new kind of quality, something consumers have never experienced before."

The book includes the text to Steve Jobs' commencement speech that he gave in Stanford. You can listen to it here, as nearly ten million others have already done.

In case you haven't already noticed, I became quite enthused about this book. If you get the chance, especially if you are in marketing, I strongly recommend this to you.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Don't let it pass you by.

EdNote: Becoming Steve Jobs was co-authored with Rick Tetzeli.


Henry Wiens said...

Very interesting that he was also such a Dylan fan and that he identified with him. They can both be viewed as artist/inventors. This book sounds excellent. Wonder how it compares to the Jobs movie.

Ed Newman said...

Thanks for the comment and inquiry. The Jobs film highlights the man's shortcomings. No question Steve Jobs was a flawed man. This book does not brush that under the rug, but instead of highlighting it the authors build their story around his ascendancy as a visionary and leader. The last part of the book pulls no punches with regards to his feet of clay. What I found inspirational and useful was from the many features of his development after his failures.
I recommend the book to anyone in business for its lessons and insights on leadership.