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The Human Side of a Tech Genius

'Becoming Steve Jobs' is an eminently readable and inspiring book that presents the late Steve Jobs as a real human being.
Ganesh Natarajan        Print Edition: May 24, 2015
The Human Side of a Tech Genius

Becoming Steve Jobs
By Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli
PAGES: 464
PRICE: Rs 699
Hodder and Stoughton

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could ever have happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." There are many achievements and failures that Steve Jobs is known for, but this excerpt from the commencement speech he made at Stanford on June 16, 2005, faithfully reproduced in Chapter 13 of this remarkable new book, signifies both his transformation to become one of the most innovative and successful CEOs of America, and his uncanny ability to connect the dots and create new visions for the world!

This book is eminently readable and inspiring because it presents Jobs as a real human being, who took full advantage of his doting foster parents by hopping in and out of college. It also chronicles how he built his first computer with Steve Wozniak in the garage of their home and lived life on his own terms right through his early time at Apple, besides his not-so-successful experiments at NeXT and runaway success at Pixar, before he returned with the wisdom acquired in this journey to make Apple the most valuable company in the world.

There are nuggets of management wisdom spread through the book. "Temper, properly targeted could be a very effective motivational tool", an art that Jobs probably unwittingly mastered. Here was a man who knew, as the authors put it, that "every technological advance must be famed in a beguiling narrative if it's to get off the workbench and into people's businesses or homes." This very strength, however, could prove to be his failing in the early years of NeXT, when in his battle with Sun [Microsystems], "he was looking in the mirror while [Sun's co-founder Scott] McNealy was looking out the window to learn what the world really needed."

Readers in India will find his journey to the country, his delving into Asian philosophy and his lack of focus on the voyage of self-discovery very appealing as we watch many youngsters in our cities struggle with the same search for a broader vision. The lasting impact that India had on him can be discerned by his devotion to Paramahamsa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, which was his reference at many stages on his life journey and was given to all attendees at a reception following his memorial service on October 16, 2011.

One of the most endearing threads that runs through the book are the many interactions that Jobs had with other legendary CEOs of the Silicon Valley - Andy Grove of Intel, Michael Dell of Dell, Sun's McNealy, Larry Ellison of Oracle and, of course, Bill Gates of Microsoft. While McNealy and Dell would scoff, both Ellison and Grove were friends to reach out to and in Bill, he found the perfect counterpoint who would compete with Apple right through, but occasionally provide visions of a new world that even Apple could adopt in its future strategies.

For Jobs, who captured the word's imagination early with a revolutionary computer, but "couldn't be bothered with the heavy lifting required to make the Mac succeed as an ongoing business", the wisdom that he acquired through these interactions made him the giant he became before his life was cut cruelly short by the Emperor of Maladies, Cancer! The authors recollect Jobs telling the NeXT CFO: "When my life is over, people will give me credit for all the creative stuff. But no one will know I actually know how to run a business."

(The reviewer is Chairman of NASSCOM Foundation, and CEO of Zensar Technologies)

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