I finally took the family entourage skiing as our dream vacation in Colorado last weekend and threw the Steve Jobs book in the travel bag to satisfy my assistant, Tiffany, who gave me the book as a holiday gift.
I was honored to get it, but indifferent on reading it because I felt like I already knew the facts of the story. But I knew she would soon ask, “how was it?” So I started with only minimal excitement and much obligation…
Boy, was I wrong. Here is why I think it’s a must read.
You will see deep inside one of the most fascinating American corporate cultures ever. The culture initially was driven by the “reality distortion field” phenomenon, where a leader projected a new reality that was unheard of and so stretched that it appeared to be a “manipulative sell” to himself and his team until the distorted reality eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy of new inflection points that never would have manifested without the power of the phenomenon of reality projecting before it even exists.
You will see Marx’s Conflict Theory in full form with Steve Jobs, who experiences atheism, anti-materialism, commune management principles and Eastern theology, all in a rebellious search to carve a new identity. This is juxtaposed with Bill Gates, who comes from a traditional path, successful parents and nurturing schools.
Both men and companies had to hate each other at the core due to deep differences in social identities that would lead to great uneven tension rarely seen in two pioneering companies, both of whom drove their heightened existence and parallel worlds. They could fake it once in a while and show mutual respect, but I felt like I was reading The Fountainhead again, with Howard Roark being Steve Jobs and Bill Gates being Peter Keating, in the great literary scene where Peter asks Howard, “What do you think of me?” and I think he said “I never do!” – even in Bill Gates’ death-bed visit, where Steve still claimed Microsoft did nothing inspiring except copy from others.
You will be brought into a very pulsating childhood experience that I believe may impact how we see our own children. It was clearly obvious that his adopted parents, who had limited formal educations, still provided 100% unconditional support that blocked many threatening authority figures from squashing his fragile confidence. Many of the outlandish acts of rebellion might have been justified as just wrong by many, but not at the cost of taking his confidence.
It made me remember how my parents raised me. I could take on authority and challenge the system when inspired to do so, and they would stress these are great leadership skills when deployed for overthrowing the status quo so don’t ever let them crush your spirit!
You will finally understand Frans Johansson’s much-discussed Medici Effect and its real organizational power if ever made commonplace because he lived it and was one of the only leaders on record who had the ability to intersect different worlds where he saw no associated barriers existed, just like the epic work outlined. Art, calligraphy, Eastern and Western philosophies, hardware, software, movies, phones, all interchangeable but connected because he knew one important thing – all customer research and focus groups are worthless if you can create game changers on a regular basis.
You will witness once-in-a lifetime greatness identified early in his life and remember never to be jealous because “once-in-a generation” DNA is equally a brutal curse and a powerful gift. You feel his pain and frustration from the day he realized what he had.
The tragic part is seeing a young kid integrated into different worlds with academic acceleration, intense isolation due to maturity differences and a Nietzsche type of awareness that he could never be a kid anyway because it was below him. However, during the read, you realize it will ultimately build a different animal in the end!
Being adopted myself, I felt the enormous respect he had for his adopted parents and his total indifference to his biological roots due to feelings of abandonment at the core of his soul. If his blood sister, Mona, had not pushed the issue, he never would have even known his own mother. Without blood lines and restrictive heritage, Steve felt the need to build an alternate reality that pushed near Nietzsche’s “noblest soul has reverence for itself” and gave him the quest to build the first “reality distortion field” as the only environment he could live in. This is why many adopted children have an intense drive to create complex and elaborate, controlled structures around them to insulate themselves from abandonment or rejection fears.
In the end, you will learn about one of the most complex men of modern times who wanted to carve out a dent in the universe and who had a deep drive to overthrow all power-based establishments from day one. You will love him for his passion, resent him for his ruthless cruelty, feel for his children who shared him too much with us, maybe even judge him for his situational ethics during challenging periods – but you will hurt for him on his death bed because his spiritual beliefs remain somewhat unknown and his premonition to die young haunted him his entire life.
This is not a feel-good book or a one-sided look at a dynamic leader, but a rare glimpse into someone who knew time was short, small talk worthless, and he wanted to change it all in the end. Really think about whom he went after and how he went after them only with knockout punches. Consider that he really hurt such establishments as IBM, as the ceremonial leader of the controlled corporate world; sleazy record labels executives who rejected iTunes as only a fad; repressed movie studios who believed animation was cute but could not be considered threatening and arrogant telecommunications organizations who missed the new world in a big way. And he believed, in the end, more would fall if death did not come way too early.
Open question: If cancer never occurred, how many more establishments could he have overthrown because he believed no one loved the masterful-but-cruel genius from day one? Did he do it out of spite, revenge, drive, legacy or the desire to free the human tendency to compromise greatness?
But in the end, while he could tackle every life possibility, achieving the fullness of his gleaming brilliance, he could not destroy the cancer which stole his body. He could not distort the reality of the earthly life which ultimately must always end.