Feb 202012

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson  

I think I killed Steve Jobs. I’m sorry everyone. I didn’t mean to, but I think it was me.

You see, I have been a Windows kind of guy for my whole career in computers. I bought an IBM XT clone for my first computer back in 1987. I knew about Apple computers, but I was a Microsoft guy, through and through. I left a mainframe computer programmer job to work on PCs. I wrote code on a beta version of Windows 95.

I listened to my artistic friends go on and on about how wonderful their Macs were and basically ignored them. When my son and daughter got into video editing, I broke down and bought them an iMac. I tried to use it, but I couldn’t figure it out. I guess I was too engrained in the Windows way of the world. I did have an iPod. In fact, I have had three over the years. I even bought an iPhone early last year because I was tired of trying to find a smartphone that was a good phone.

But back to my confession. I really think I killed Steve Jobs. I bought a MacBook Air on October 4, 2011. He died the next day, unable to withstand the  shock of my conversion.

You would think after my conversion, I would have lined up first to read Isaacson’s biography of the man who sucked me in. I didn’t. I resisted for a long time, just like I did with my computer. I knew I would eventually give in. I listened to my friends comment about the book. Much of what they said, confirmed what I thought of Steve Jobs. A couple of weeks ago, though, I finally decided it was time to find out the story behind the man everyone has been heralding as a modern prophet of innovation.

A few years ago, Steve Jobs requested Walter Isaacson, a reporter he knew, to write his biography. Isaacson resisted for a long time. He didn’t know about Jobs’ cancer and thought it was a project for “some day”. Every time Jobs saw him at press events for the next few years, he would insist he do it. When Isaacson learned of Jobs’ cancer, he realized he needed to get started. I am glad he did, too. The result was a uncensored view one of the most influential men of the century.

Jobs promised to not try to influence who he spoke with or what he wrote and he held to that promise. The more I read about Jobs’ career, I can see that must have been the most restraint he had ever exercised. Jobs was a controlling pursuant of perfection in every aspect of his life. He domineered everyone he came in contact with. He would inject his standards on every aspect of everyone around him.

The stories Isaacson tells confirmed all the rumors I had heard over the years about Steve Jobs. A tyrant to work for, he would scream and yell at anyone who didn’t measure up, regardless of their position or abilities. His employees knew that if they ever produced anything with a flaw, or sometimes even when it was perfect, there was always a chance Jobs would go off like a rocket, swearing, belittling and heaping on the the verbally abuse. He would even do it to other CEOs without regard. Even casual acquaintances or US presidents were not exempt: both Rupert Murdoch and Barrack Obama received unsolicited advice on their shortcomings.

He wasn’t any better with his family, either. His daughters were largely ignored. The family always took second seat to his first love: Apple. He did spend time with his son and even prayed that he would survive his cancer long enough to see his son graduate, but his three daughters did not enjoy that level of interest.

Isaacson offers a uninhibited view of why we forgive this poor excuse of a human being. In short, his brilliance in designing user friendly products is unparalleled. His drive for perfection created some of the most widely accepted products the world has known. His string of successes in quite amazing. The Apple II, Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, MacBook Air, iPod, iPhone and the iPad. Don’t forget Pixar. Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, The Incredibles and many others form an unbroken string of blockbusters. On the way, he built a dominant company, was kicked out, came back, rescued it and built it into the most valuable company on planet Earth, all in 56 years.

While I don’t admire the man for how he lived his life, I do admire the success he had in spite of all his personal weaknesses. I don’t hold him up as the titan others may do, but my hat is off to what he accomplished in his short life. I am glad he left extensive notes for Apple’s future and built a group of achievers just as committed to his dreams as he. I believe he did exactly what he wanted: build a long-lasting company and give the world amazing tools to express themselves. He made a convert out of me.

Feb 142012

I have talked much throughout the year of staying connected with old friends and colleagues. This is important to do. However, it is critical to stay close to the ones we love. Take time today to tell them. It doesn’t require chocolates, flowers or a card. A hug, a note on their pillow or saying the three little words are all it takes. Spend some time doing a little act of service – clean up the dishes, take out the trash or give them a back rub. Doing something means so much more than just saying it. Don’t let a day pass by without demonstrating your love for your family and closest friends. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go wake up the love of my life.

Happy Valentines Day!

Sep 182011

Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family by Condoleezza Rice

I have admired Condoleezza Rice for many years. I was always impressed by her grace and intelligence in one of the toughest jobs in government – the National Security Advisor. When I heard she had written a memoir, I have to admit I dismissed it at first. Everyone in politics seems to be writing a “tell all” book that guarantees the inside dirt on Washington. Fame for the cost of trashing friends, coworkers and allies. I was had always hoped she would not stoop to that depth. I finally took up the courage to listen to this book when I saw that she read it herself. I think this is the best book I have enjoyed this year. Perhaps it should be required reading.

Ms. Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama at the height of the Civil Rights era. She experienced the hate and prejudice first hand. This memoir of her parents showed how she was able to rise and become the woman she is today. I started thinking this was a book about Ms. Rice. I was mistaken. This is a tribute to her parents, Angelena and John Rice. This is the story of raising a family in the racially divided South prior to and during desegregation.

I won’t go into the stories she presents. You need to experience them for yourself. They are engaging, gripping and ordinary. These were plain folk, raising their daughter the best way they knew. It is a story of sacrifice for children not often heard today. Yet, I believe it is a tribute to all the parents who do an extraordinary job of raising their children without fanfare, while the dysfunctional families get their own reality TV show. The Rice’s were the kind of family next door who are there for a cup of sugar or a listening ear. Their greatest tribute is the phenomenal success of their daughter.

I grew up just after desegregation and in nearly all-white Idaho. I didn’t experience racial discrimination. My parents taught me not to judge anyone by their skin color. I had no concept of what it was like for blacks in the South. I found myself crying in shame and pain while reading her descriptions of life in Birmingham. I appreciate the education she gave me without instilling hate or anger herself.

I understand she is writing an additional memoir of her time in politics. This book ends with the death of her parents, just as she is accepting the NSA job for the Bush White House. I wanted to know more of her thoughts on this time and can hardly wait. I hope she stays true to her style and provides another great read. Truly a wonderful lady, thanks to her extraordinary, ordinary parents. This is how every family should be.