6 Things You May Not Know About Steve Jobs, And A Look At His Biography

Steve Jobs needs no introduction.  He is one of the most known entrepreneurs after his revolution of the music player with the iPod, his revolution of the cell phone with the iPhone, and one of his most recent attempts before he died to revolutionize the notebook with the iPad.

There are many interesting things to know about Steve that in my opinion will shock you if you don’t know too much about him because he isn’t the typical type of person you imagine when you think of a CEO of a major corporation.  Here are some of the most interesting things about him that you may not know:

  1. He was adopted as a child. There was a certain period of his life where he spent years trying to track his biological parents down.  When he eventually found out that his father was working at a diner in California, he didn’t want to approach him and start a conversation.
  2. He is the biological brother of the famous novelist Mona Simpson.
  3. He practiced meditation often and after he went on a trip to India around the age of 19-22 he came back a Buddhist.
  4. He took LCD and says that it had a profound experience on him in shaping who he was and it was one of the most important things in his life.
  5. He was very rude and critical with people he worked with in his early years at Apple. As he grew older this changed and he became much better to work with.  According to one person he worked with, Ed Catmull of Pixar, this was due to his wife Laurene Powell, and his kids.  Before he became a little more understanding with people he worked with and more empathetic, he got into a big disagreement with John Sculley on which direction Apple should be headed in.  The board sided with Sculley and kicked Steve Jobs out from the company he started.
  6. Steve started a company called NEXT which developed an operating system that was designed for higher business and education programs. The company flopped but was eventually bought out by Apple while bringing back Steve Jobs as a full time CEO.

Steve has had a very interesting journey throughout his life.  It isn’t a typical journey that you would normally imagine when you think of the CEO of a multi-billionaire dollar publicly traded company.  Normally someone probably thinks of a person who graduated from an IVY league college with a Bachelors and an MBA degree, as well as having a long tenure at a company working up from the bottom to the top.  It is also probably common to think of someone with a lot more experience than Steve had.

Steve founded Apple in his 20’s and dropped out of college.  It was this rebellious attitude to do things in a creative and contrarian way that propelled him to bring to the world some of the most innovative and ubiquitous products we see in the world today.

Before he died, Steve wanted to make sure that there was a record out there that got his story correct.  He also wanted his kids to know who he was, so he gave best-selling author, Walter Isaacson, access to his personal life, his work life, and his family life so he could write a biography that gets Steve’s story right.

That book was released in 2011 and is a fabulous 656-page recount of Steve’s journey through life. It goes into a lot of details on what was going through Steve’s mind at various stages of his life.  Some of the more interesting events the book discusses are how he navigated Apple against Microsoft, and his tough negotiation skills with Disney while he was managing Pixar.

It’s a great read and I put some of the interesting parts that I highlighted from Walter Isaacon’s book Steve Jobs below:

“I came of age at a magical time, Steve Jobs reflected later.  “Our consciousness was raised by Zen, and also by LSD.”  Even later in life he would credit psychedelic drugs for making him more enlightened.  “Taking LSD was a profound experience, one of the most important things in my life.  LSD shows that there is another side to the coin, and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it.  It reinforced my sense of what was important – creating great things instead of making money, putting things back into the stream of history and of human consciousness as much as I could.”  – Steve Jobs

Pg 78  Mike Markkula, [an early venture capitalist for Apple and father-type figure to Steve,] emphasized to Steve Jobs that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich.  Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.

Pg 78  [Mike also wrote a one-page paper titled the Apple Marketing Philosophy.  It stressed empathy, focus, and impute.  Impute is how something is represented.  Mark told Steve Jobs that people DO judge a book by its cover, so an Apple product should always be represented in the best way in order to convey to the customer its value.]

Pg 78 “We may have the best product, the highest quality, the most useful software etc.; but if we present them in a slipshod manner, they will be perceived as slipshod; if we present them in a creative, professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities.” – Mike Markkula to Steve

Pg 179 Apple had been more innovative, imaginative, elegant in execution, and brilliant in design.  But even though Microsoft created a crudely copied series of products, it would end up winning the war of operating systems.  This exposed an aesthetic flaw in how the universe worked: the best and most innovative products don’t always win.  [Steve’s opinion on losing to Microsoft in the early years of the operating system battle]

Pg 183 When asked about his obsessive concern over the look of the factory, Jobs said it was a way to ensure a passion for perfection:

“I’d go out to the factory, and I’d put on a white glove to check for dust.  I’d find it everywhere – on machines, on the top of racks, on the floor.  And I’d ask Debi to get it cleaned.  I told her I thought we should be able to eat off the floor of the factory.  Well, this drove Debi up the wall.  She didn’t understand why.  And I couldn’t articulate it back then.  See, I’d been very influenced by what I’d seen in Japan.  Part of what I greatly admired there – and part of what we were lacking in our factory was a sense of teamwork and discipline.  If we didn’t have the discipline to keep that place spotless, then we weren’t going to have the discipline to keep all these machines running.”  – Steve Jobs

Pg 189-190 “Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind.  You are really etching chemical patterns.  In most cases, people get stuck in those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never get out of them. 

I’ll always stay connected with Apple.  I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry.  There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’ll always come back…

If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much.  You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away.

The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times, artists have to say, “Bye. I have to go.  I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.”  And they go and hibernate somewhere.  Maybe later they re-emerge a little different.” -Steve Jobs

Pg 382 [Jobs focused Apple on video rather than music just as companies like HP were allowing users to burn CDs.  Jobs got rid of the tray disk drive and installed a more elegant slot drive because he wasn’t so concerned with burning CDs.  Steve admitted that he really missed the boat on this and Apple needed to catch up fast.  This shows you can’t get everything right.  It’s too hard, especially in technology.]

“The mark of an innovative company is not only that it comes up with new ideas first, but that it knows how to leapfrog when it finds itself behind.” – Steve Jobs

Pg 383 [Jobs once let a Time reporter meet Apple’s head of music software development but only under one condition.  That the reporter wouldn’t print his last name.  Jobs felt that this employee (Jeff Robbin) was so valuable to Apple that he didn’t want his last name out there so he could get stolen by a competitor.]

Pg 407 Here is Steve Jobs on the failure of Microsoft’s competing portable music player, the Zune:

“The older I get, the more I see how much motivations matter.  The Zune was crappy because the people at Microsoft don’t really love music or art the way we do.  We won because we personally love music.  We made the iPod for ourselves, and when you’re doing something for yourself, or your best friend or family, you’re not going to cheese out.  If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go the extra mile, work the extra weekend, challenge the status quo as much.”

Pg 407-408 [Walter Isaacson describes how Sony failed at competing with Apple in the portable music player business.  It was because Sony was a corporation that was organized into divisions all with their own profit statements.  Jobs had his companies controlled to work in one cohesive and flexible unit with one profit and loss statement.  Sony also worried about cannibalization.  If one division of Sony created a portable music player to share songs then it would have hurt the profits of its record division.  See my article on this here: A Lesson On Apple’s Destruction of Sony’s Top Selling Music Player]

Pg 430. There’s a classic thing in business, which is the second product syndrome,” Jobs later said.  It comes from not understanding what made your first product so successful.

Pg 431 ” There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat.” [Steve Jobs] said. “That’s crazy.  Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.  You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘wow, and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.'”

Pg 484 [This page describes when Steve Jobs got on the organ donor waiting list.]  “It was dreadful.” Powell recalled. “It didn’t look like we would make it in time.”  Everyday became more excruciating.

Pg 495. A night after the announcement of the iPad, Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson this:

“I got about 800 email messages in the last twenty-four hours.  Most of them are complaining.  There’s no USB cord!  There’s no this, no that.  Some of them are like, ‘Fuck you, how can you do that?’ I don’t usually write people back, but I replied, ‘Your parents would be so proud of how you turned out.’  And some don’t like the iPad name, and on and on.  I kind of got depressed today.  It knocks you back a bit.”

Pg 528  Steve Jobs as he battles cancer, “Living with a disease like this, and all the pain, constantly reminds you of your own mortality, and that can do strange things to your brain if you’re not careful.  You don’t make plans more than a year out, and that’s bad.  You need to force yourself to plan as if you will live for many years.”

Pg 556 to 557 Walter Isaacson asked Steve why he let him write the book and here is Steve’s answer, “I wanted my kids to know me.  I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them 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.”