Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs Biography Book Summary

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  • Jobs had many positive and negative attributes. He was really weird and difficult to deal with as a person, which both helped and harmed him at many times.
  • There are many paths to entrepreneurship, and every person operates differently in finding success.
  • Apple and Jobs were not always the sources of creativity; Apple used acquisitions, outside contractors, and ad agencies to design many of the products and ad media that we now consider iconic Apple.
  • Jobs went direct and always called on the top people for help; he didn’t go it alone. From looking up the CEO of HP in the phone directory and calling him for a part as a teenager to calling up Bono, Bill Gates, and Bill Clinton, Jobs went to the source and the decision maker and never felt shy to state what he wanted.
  • Walks can be a great way to connect with someone else.
  • Sharing your feelings and being honest with others can be motivating.
  • Entrepreneurs can convince everyone around them to work hard and believe in them through reality distortion fields.
  • Don’t worry about hyperbole or reputation; every product Jobs every released was “the greatest thing ever.”
  • There are some interesting parallels between Eastern spiritual traditions and entrepreneurship.
  • Entrepreneurs must be constantly pitching and enthusiastic.
  • A supportive family affects a person in fundamental ways.


  • Jobs asked Isaacson to write his bio.
  • Jobs was constantly pitching and enthusiastic.
  • Wanted to be at intersection of humanities and tech


  • Abandoned, chosen, special
  • Adopted
  • Wants to control everything around him like product
  • Father mechanic who taught him to build and design
  • Care about parts, backs, and insides even when not visible
  • Moved to Silicon Valley, defense contractors, loved computers
  • Realized was smarter than parents


  • Bored at school
  • Played pranks
  • Zen Buddhism
  • Spirituality not dogma
  • Home electronics kits
  • Joined HP Explorers
  • Did drugs, part of hippie movement
  • Hated authority

Steve Wozniak

  • Met in electronics class
  • Built his own microprocessors
  • Lots of pranks
  • Phone phreaking
  • Woz engineered, Jobs packaged for sale
  • Dropout
  • Patience was never his virtue
  • Loved zen, Dylan, and acid
  • Zen Mind, Beginners Mind
  • Zen emphasis on intuition
  • Vegetarian and weird diets

Reality distortion field

  • Staring and silence, intensity
  • Loved calligraphy and typography, nice design
  • Atari
  • Search for enlightenment, time in India


  • The Apple I
  • Altair
  • Counterculture and technology
  • Wozniak had idea for personal computer with CPU, keyboard, and mouse in one package.
  • Jobs thought of idea to sell computer.
  • Apple name came from Jobs’ fruit diet, simplicity, counter culture
  • Simple partnership agreement
  • Third partner left from personal liability fear, gave up 10% stake for $1600
  • Sold first computers to retail shop, assembled in garage
  • Bought parts after got customer order

Apple II

  • Integrated package
  • Great case
  • Sequoia VC told him to get marketing guy
  • Apple marketing philosophy (3 points from VC partner)
  • Empathy
  • Focus
  • Impute (people judge book by cover)
  • Girlfriend got pregnant but he ignored daughter
  • Courts forced him to pay child support
  • Xerox PARC
  • GUI
  • Bit mapping
  • Great artists steal

Going public

  • The Mac is born
  • Reality distortion field
  • Belief that rules didn’t apply
  • Incorporated vision and able to lie and deceive because deceives himself
  • Binary distinction between great and horrible for the people he worked with
  • Perfectionism
  • Bad at making trade-offs

The design

  • Simple and clean modernism
  • Inspired by CuisinArt (funny that it’s not the other way around)
  • Friendly look
  • Hired and contracted with designers
  • Obsessed with perfect box and packaging

Building the Mac

  • Crusade against IBM
  • Mac incompatibility with other Apple models
  • Wanted to give masses a controlled experience
  • It’s not done until it ships. (Different philosophy from “great engineers ship” or “perfect is the enemy of good.”)
  • The journey is the reward.
  • Customer doesn’t know what he wants.
  • Dream of laptop and tablet
  • Don’t compromise.
  • Some could stand up to him.
  • Intra-company rivalry between Mac by Jobs and Lisa computer where he was kicked out.


  • Pepsi president
  • Jobs more showman than businessman
  • Rise of IBM PC
  • Launch of Mac
  • Chiat/Day made famous 1984 Mac ad
  • 1/24/84 launch
  • Greatest commercial ever
  • Make product intros epic moments

Gates and Jobs

  • Microsoft started programming apps for Mac (!)
  • Licensed Microsoft’s BASIC
  • MS wrote Excel for Mac
  • MS ripped off Windows but actually just ripped off Xerox PARC
  • First version crude but iterated
  • Thought MS had no taste
  • Sculley just wanted to please Steve.
  • Steve controlled him.


  • Wozniak quit to work on own remote control.
  • Scully never became product person.
  • Jobs abusive in organization
  • Made Jobs resign because couldn’t operate business
  • Feeling of rejection at early age


  • Left and took key employees
  • Was sued
  • People couldn’t trust his integrity.
  • Many failures at NeXT matured his personality.
  • Very stubborn
  • Paid $100K for logo design consultant for 1 option only before any product existed
  • Took minor design issues to extremes
  • Education workstation product
  • Ross Perot invested.
  • Gates and Jobs fought over NeXT.
  • Jobs wanted one controlled platform.
  • Gates wanted compatibility.
  • Huge launch party
  • Jobs was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of product launches.

Pixar: technology meets art

  • Jobs bought majority stake from George Lucas
  • Was Lucasfilm animated division
  • Pixar did deal with Disney.

Family man

  • Met a woman, fell in love
  • She was much older than him and Jobs eventually wanted kids
  • Reconnected with biological family and sister
  • Became more involved with his own daughter
  • Jobs very mercurial, embrace and coldness
  • Could be very romantic
  • Met wife at talk he gave at Stanford GSB
  • Fluctuates focus of attention between extremes of love and work
  • His favorite place for vacation: Kona Village, Hawaii
  • Married at Ahwahnee resort in Yosemite
  • Moved to Palo Alto unpretentious house
  • No security guards or live-in servants
  • Kept backdoor unlocked

Toy Story

  • Disney licensed Pixar computers
  • Pixar went public after Toy Story release

The second coming

  • Apple chose to license NeXT os and hardware
  • Apple lost to Windows
  • Jobs wanted to return to Apple as CEO and innovate
  • Wanted to find Unix OS to build upon
  • NeXT built a Unix OS
  • Contest against BeOS

The restoration

  • Kicked out CEO
  • Came back, kicked out board
  • Microsoft invested and committed to making Office for Mac
  • Lots of phone calls between Jobs and Gates
  • Cried a lot at emotional moments
  • “Think Different” campaign
  • Called famous people out of the blue when needed help or favors or when needed CEO somewhere to give exception
  • Many wanted them to license OS
  • Got out of all product lines except 4
  • Many layoffs

Design principles

  • Johnny Ive designer at Apple
  • Hand drawn, emotional designs
  • Jobs designed case, engineers had to make boards fit
  • Design of packaging, have patents for boxes design

The iMac

  • All in one
  • Clear case
  • Handle to grab, humanizes it


  • Zero tolerance for poor performance of staff or suppliers
  • Built just-in-time supply chain and build-to-order sales like Dell
  • Hired Tim Cook for supply chain management
  • Cut inventory
  • Got 100 turtlenecks from Japanese designer of Sony uniform (Issey Miyake)
  • Would park his Mercedes over 2 handicapped spots
  • Claimed others’ ideas as own
  • Didn’t take any salary or stock at first
  • Asked for airplane instead
  • OS X came from NeXT

Apple Stores and Genius Bars

  • Store size conveys size of brand
  • Wants to be in most expensive locations
  • Visual and touching design studio
  • If something is not right, fix and delay launch instead launching imperfectly.
  • Insisted on only stone from Florence sidewalks.
  • Signature staircase
  • Jobs has patents on staircase design.
  • Apple has highest traffic and sales volume in retail.

The digital hub

  • FireWire
  • Control hardware, software, media devices
  • Adobe didn’t put Photoshop on Mac and Jobs was pissed; didn’t put flash on iPad
  • iTunes (had bought SoundJam startup)
  • iPod
  • Scroll wheel
  • Pure white color
  • Iconic ads
  • Outspent all other music players in ads because improved Mac image

iTunes store

  • Legal alternative to piracy
  • Individual songs
  • Had to sign up music companies
  • Sony could have done same as Apple with computer, music, and player, but its divisions didn’t work together.
  • Moved to PC against Steve’s wishes
  • Never worry about cannibalization of own products with new ones
  • Microsoft attempt (Zune) failed.
  • Mini, Shuffle
  • iTunes sold 1 million songs in 6 days
  • Started to sell magazines, videos, apps

Music man

  • A person is defined by their iPod list.
  • Bob Dylan, Beatles were his favorites
  • Bob Dylan digital boxed set sold, huge marketing
  • Apple gave musicians brand to leverage (reverse of celebrity endorsement); iPod gave access to younger listeners.
  • Beatles Apple Core trademark suit
  • Later suit when Apple went into music
  • Bono wanted to do ad for Apple promoting new album
  • Black Nano with royalty to U2
  • Red iPod for philanthropy
  • Loved Yo-Yo Ma

Pixar’s friends and foes

  • Dreamworks came out with Ants competing with Pixar’s A bugs life
  • 2nd product syndrome: don’t understand why first product successful so if can survive second one, will be fine
  • Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings and random collaboration; must meet in person, not by email
  • Eisner and Jobs clashed
  • Iger worked better with Jobs
  • Introduced iPod video including Disney ABC shows
  • Disney wanted to buy Pixar
  • Took a lot of walks with everyone he met with

21st century Mac

  • Intel architecture
  • New desktop iMac design
  • Huge stock grants and CEO compensation controversy
  • Kidney stones from overwork on Apple and Pixar
  • Cancer diagnosis
  • Refused surgery for a while and did vegan diet and acupuncture
  • Stanford commencement address
  • Tim Cook helped when was out for surgery
  • Monday morning executive meetings across divisions from 9am-12pm
  • Focus on 2-3 things at a time
  • Mortality keeps all in perspective


  • Hated all phones
  • Tried partnership with Motorola for Rockr
  • Wanted to build phone they wanted to use
  • iPad idea had already been in progress and merged with iPhone
  • Multitouch feature
  • Acquired Fingerworks company with gestures parents
  • Rounded rectangles
  • Swipe to open
  • Light sensor for when on phone
  • Guerilla glass by Corning
  • Famous speech for product launch

Round 2

  • Lost a lot of weight due to diets
  • Cancer returned
  • Didn’t give full truth
  • Stock price dropped due to health
  • Didn’t jump the queue for liver transplant
  • Dual listed on Tennessee list and got transplant there
  • Hated design of various medical apparatuses
  • Tablet project


  • Journalism and books
  • Apple owns the customer and credit card
  • Mad at Android
  • Wants end-to-end control
  • Hates Flash
  • Apple: design before engineering
  • Antenna problem in iPhone 4
  • Got Beatles finally in iTunes Store

To infinity

  • Ipad 2
  • Detachable cover
  • Took wife to original wedding site for 20 year anniversary
  • iCloud
  • MobileMe sucked
  • New signature office campus

Round 3

  • Son did cancer research at Stanford
  • Loved Kyoto
  • Jobs always dismissive of philanthropic efforts
  • Involved with helping Obama
  • Medical leave
  • Lack of integrated approach among caretakers
  • Wanted orderly transition of power at Apple
  • Visits at his house by Gates, Clinton, etc.


  • End-to-end integration
  • Intensity
  • Hero/shithead dichotomy
  • Food is best thing ever or inedible
  • Open vs. closed systems
  • Delight the user vs. empower the user
  • Got people to do things they never thought possible
  • Didn’t invent much outright but put things together in good design
  • Apple II, Macintosh, Toy Story, Apple stores, iPod, iTunes Store, iPhone, App Store, iPad, iCloud, Apple itself
  • Not exceptionally smart but a genius in another way
  • Magician genius (intuition not processing power)
  • Design sensibility
  • Perfectionism
  • Products, not profits, are his motivation
  • Figure out what customers will want, not market research or giving what they ask for directly.
  • Deep current of humanity in innovation
  • Great artists were great at science
  • For Microsoft, winning business was more important than making great products
  • Tell people to their face if something sucks.


Shout out to maxmednik.com for doing this written summary

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