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Synopsis

As the icon of innovation and applied imagination, Steve Jobs revolutionized six industries and made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

But what principles made him one of the greatest inventors and product visionaries of the 21st century?

Biographer Walter Isaacson raises the curtain on this secret. Based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs, as well as insights from 100 family members, friends, rivals and peers, Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography is a comprehensive study of a man who changed history.

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Top 20 insights

  1. Computers in the 70s were for business use and did not have screens and keyboards. Steve Wozniak and Jobs started Apple to market a personal computer that came with a keyboard and screen. Apple II was a commercial success and launched the Personal Computing revolution. In 1980 Apple was valued at $1.79 billion, and Jobs was worth $256 million at only 25.
  2. The Apple Marketing Philosophy, written by Mike Markkula, shaped Jobs's approach to product design and branding. It had three principles: empathy, focus and impute. Empathy meant to deeply understand customer feelings. Focus was to eliminate unimportant opportunities and excel in a few things. Impute meant that people judge a product or company by its cover.
  3. Jobs recruited people with a passion for product. He would show them the Macintosh prototype, and if they got excited and started to use it, he would hire them.
  4. Jobs ruthlessly fired B players. "The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players," he used to say.
  5. During his second stint, Jobs became a manager. He displayed a pragmatic, detail-oriented approach. This was visible in his decision to completely outsource his passion, hardware manufacturing. As Board Member Ed Wollard said, "He became a manager, which is different from being an executive or visionary."
  6. Jobs' famous "Reality Distortion Field" was the ability to convince anyone of practically anything. His team achieved the impossible because he convinced them that it was possible.
  7. Jobs made the team see their work as art and was obsessed with the design of invisible components like circuit boards. Craftsmanship had to be end-to-end. When the Macintosh was complete, he had the signatures of every team member engraved inside the Macintosh.
  8. Most companies would ask designers to design cases according to engineering specifications. At Apple, Jobs ensured that design drove engineering. Jonathan Ive, the Chief Design Officer, was virtually second-in-command. Every day, Jobs would tour the design studio. This would give him a big-picture view of Apple's strategy and its roadmap for the next three years.
  9. There were three elements to Jobs's dazzling product launches. The first was great advertising like Apple's iconic 1984 and Think Different campaigns. The second was to stoke excitement and leverage journalists' competitive instincts to create blasts of favorable media coverage. The final element was a flawlessly choreographed product launch that made it look like a moment in history.
  10. Jobs learned from Markkula that companies that endure know how to reinvent themselves. HP started as an instrument company, became a calculator company and ended up as a computer company. Microsoft had thoroughly beaten Apple in the Personal Computer business, so Apple needed an HP-like metamorphosis.
  11. Jobs believed in focus. For companies and products, to know what not to do is as important as to know what to do. So Jobs ruthlessly shut down dozens of product lines and drew a simple four-square chart with "consumer" and "pro" on the columns and "Desktop" and "Portable" on the rows. Apple's product strategy was to make one great product for each quadrant.
  12. Every year, Jobs took his 100 most valuable employees on a retreat to brainstorm ten things Apple should do next. Employees would compete to get their ideas on the list and rank the ideas by priority. At the end, Jobs would slash the bottom seven ideas and announce that "[they could] only do three."
  13. Oracle founder, Larry Ellison, once said that "Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry." Every Wednesday, Jobs held a three-hour meeting with his marketing and communications people. He would take his advertising team to the design studio to show them prototypes. He shared his passion for products with the marketing team and infused every ad with Apple's unique emotion.
  14. Jobs realized that to sell Macs with other brands meant to make them look like a commodity. He came up with Apple Stores to completely control the end-user experience and convey the essence of Apple's products. By July 2011, the average revenue per store was $34 million. The Apple Stores catapulted Apple from a tech commodity to a luxury brand.
  15. To position Apple for a post-PC future, Jobs pioneered the Digital Hub strategy. The Macintosh became a hub to sync "lifestyle devices" from music players to mobile phones. The computer handled complex applications and allowed devices to become simpler and more intuitive. The Digital Hub strategy birthed three iconic products: iPod, iPhone and iPad.
  16. The iPod was intuitive in use and held 1000 songs when its clunky competitors held just a few dozen songs. Jobs invested $75 million in marketing because he believed the iPod would make Apple look cool and spur Macintosh sales. The bet paid off. By January 2007, the iPod accounted for nearly 50% of Apple's revenues and beat Macintosh sales.
  17. Jobs convinced record companies and artists to sell songs in the iTunes store. Each song would cost only 99 cents and save users fifteen minutes they'd spend to pirate it. The iTunes store sold one million songs in just six days. The iTunes database of 225 million active users positioned Apple for digital commerce powered by the App store.
  18. The Digital Hub strategy produced two more groundbreaking devices: the iPhone and the iPad. Within three years, Apple cornered more than 50% of global cell phone profits. Jobs said: "The reason Apple can create products like the iPad is that we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts."
  19. Jobs initially did not allow outside developers to build apps for Apple products. Then he discovered a middle ground with the iTunes Store. Developers had to meet strict quality standards and sell only through the iTunes store. Apps became an overnight industry, extended the iPhone and iPad's functionalities and powered the success of Apple products.
  20. Jobs had a theory about why companies decline. According to him, innovative companies reach near-monopoly positions and begin to prioritize salespeople over product designers and developers. When salespeople run the company, it results in mediocre products and eventual decline.

Summary

The best way to create value in the 21st century is to connect creativity with technology. This is a biography of a creative visionary who built the world's most valuable company that combined leaps of imagination with remarkable feats of engineering. This book covers Jobs' achievements, mistakes and thought processes. And touches upon all aspects of his life: from childhood to all the groundbreaking projects business leaders and entrepreneurs can draw wisdom from.

Launching the personal computer revolution

After university, Jobs spent his days auditing Stanford classes and working for Atari. Jobs and Wozniak would attend the Homebrew Computer Club meetings, which encouraged hackers to build their own computers. During one of the meetings, Wozniak had the epiphany of putting together a keyboard and screen in one integrated computer for everyday use. Jobs convinced him to start a company together to sell personal computers and managed to get orders for two hundred pieces. That is how Apple was born. Its successor, Apple II, launched the era of Personal Computers and became a huge commercial success. Over the next 16 years, nearly six million units of the Apple II would be sold. Apple went public on December 12th, 1980, valuing the company at $1.79 billion. At only 25, Jobs was worth $256 million.

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The Steve Jobs playbook

Designing great products

To bring marketing flair to Apple, Jobs got Markkula on board. Markkula wrote his principles in a one-pager, titled ""The Apple Marketing Philosophy"" that emphasized three points.

  • The first was empathy, truly understanding customer feelings better than any other company.
  • The second was focus, "to do a good job of those things that we decide to do, we must eliminate all of the unimportant opportunities."
  • The third was a fundamental principle named impute.

People judge a product or a company by the signals it conveys. If a product is presented as slipshod, it will be perceived as slipshod. If the company presents them "in a creative professional manner, we will impute the desired qualities." These principles have been at the core of Jobs's approach to products. As Jobs recounted later, Markkula taught him that the tactile experience of opening an iPhone box will set the tone for how the customer perceives the product.

Jobs was convinced that great industrial design would set Apple apart. The designs had to be "intuitively obvious." The products were minimalist with both seriousness and a sense of play. The best products were "whole widgets" designed end-to-end with software and hardware closely tailored together.

Jobs insisted that the machines must look friendly. He would not even spare the printed circuit board and other components from scrutiny. When engineers interrupted that no one would ever see it, Jobs said he wanted the Mac to be as beautiful as possible. The aesthetic and craftsmanship should be carried all the way through. When the Mac was completed, Jobs engraved the signatures of every member inside the Macintosh. With moments like this, he made the team see their work as art.

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Building A-class teams

Jobs' test for recruiting people on the Macintosh team was to make sure they had a passion for the product. He would dramatically unveil the prototype and, if their eyes lit up and they went for the mouse, he would hire them. Jobs was ruthless with firing employees he called "B players." As a team grows, naturally, B players seep in, and they begin to attract C players. "The Macintosh experience taught me that A players like to work only with other A players, which means you can't indulge B players." In his presence, reality was malleable and people were hypnotized.

Jobs' Reality Distortion Field was a self-fulfilling distortion. Because he could convince his team that it was not impossible, they achieved the impossible. Jobs infused in Apple employees an abiding passion for creating groundbreaking products and the belief that they could accomplish the impossible. "By expecting them to do really great things, you can get them to do great things," Jobs explained.

Memorable product launches

Jobs excelled in product launches. For the Macintosh launch in 1984, he hired Ridley Scott to make an edgy commercial that portrayed IBM as the Big Brother from George Orwell's 1984 and Macintosh as a cool, rebellious woman who stood for personal freedom. The ad was a sensation and was selected by Advertising Age as the greatest commercial of all time. The second part of the playbook was igniting blasts of media coverage that would feed on itself like a chain reaction. Jobs knew how to stoke excitement and leverage the competitive instincts of journalists to gain favorable coverage. The third component was unveiling the product in a way that seems like an epochal moment in history. The Macintosh became the first computer to introduce itself.

Exodus

Despite the excitement, Macintosh sales began to decline rapidly as the computer was underpowered. Jobs' temperamental nature increasingly resulted in conflicts with Apple employers and a tug-of-war with CEO John Sculley. When things came to a standstill, the board forced Jobs to leave Apple. As Arthur Rock, Apple Board Member, said: "The best thing ever to happen to Steve is when we fired him, told him to get lost." It was a learning experience that prepared him for his later years at Apple.

Jobs was unbound and indulged in all his instincts. The first was his passion for design. Jobs paid a $100,000 flat fee to get the logo designed for his second venture, NeXT. He insisted that the workstation be shaped like a cube forcing suboptimal engineering compromises. His obsession with perfection resulted in the NeXT product launch getting delayed by years. When NeXt's computer was finally released in 1989, it sold just 400 units a month, and the company began to bleed badly. NeXT was forced to license its operating system and give up making hardware. Jobs was more successful with Pixar, where he produced a series of digital animation blockbusters and exited as a billionaire.

The second coming

Return to Apple

In the '90s, Apple had lost market share to Microsoft. It was desperately searching for an operating system that could solve its networking and memory management issues. NeXT's operating system was the best fit. Apple eventually bought NeXT for $400 million, and Jobs was back as an advisor to the chairman. Immediately, he put trusted people from NeXT into the top ranks at Apple. Soon, Jobs took the helm as CEO. When Jobs asked Marakkula for advice on turning around Apple, he responded that lasting companies know how to reinvent themselves. Microsoft had beaten Apple in the Personal Computer market. Apple had to undergo a metamorphosis and become a company that builds something new.

Focus

One of Job's great strengths was focus. He made every product team present their work and justify their reason for existence. Apple's product line was chaos, with over 12 different versions of the Macintosh being manufactured. After a few weeks, Jobs drew a simple four-square chart with "consumer" and "pro" on the columns and "desktop" and "portable" on the rows. Apple's job was to make one great product in each quadrant.

Unlike his previous stint, Jobs displayed a detail-oriented realism in managing the company that shocked those who were used to his reality-distortion field. As Board Member Ed Wollard said, "He became a manager, which is different from being an executive or visionary." He let go of his desire to build everything in-house and completely outsourced hardware manufacturing.

Once a year, Jobs took 100 of his most valuable employees on a retreat. They would discuss what were ten things Apple should be doing next. People would fight to get suggestions in, and after much debate, 10 things would be on the board. Jobs would then slash the bottom seven and announce that "we can only do only three."

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Think different

As CEO, Jobs wanted to signal that Apple was still alive and stood for something special. So he requested Lee Clow, the creative director of Chiat/Day who made the 1984 ad, to create an iconic campaign. As Jobs said, "We had forgotten who we are. One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are." The Think Different campaign was one of the most memorable print campaigns in history. It featured uncaptioned black-and-white portraits of iconic figures like Dalai Lama, Lennon, Edison and Richard Feynman with the Apple logo and the simple phrase: "Think different." Jobs made people think of themselves as creative rebels just by the computer they used. As Larry Ellison said, "Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry."

Design dictates engineering

In most companies, engineering departments would share specifications, and the designers would be asked to come up with cases. Under Jobs, design dictated engineering. Every day, Jobs would tour the design studio, inspect products under development and suggest changes. This gave him a big-picture view of Apple's strategy and its roadmap for the next three years.

The iMac, a stunningly translucent all-in-one computer, was the first iconic new product that came from Job's obsessive product and design focus. The iMac became the fastest-selling computer in Apple's history, with 32% sales from first-time buyers. In January 2000, the next-generation Macintosh Operating System, OSX, was released.

Apple goes retail

Jobs was obsessed with controlling every aspect of the end-user experience. He hated that the futuristic iMac had to sit on retail shelves with Dell and Compaq, making it a commodity. Placing Apple Stores on prominent malls and streets would make Windows users drop by out of curiosity. Apple would then get the chance to communicate its vision of innovation and convert them. Apple Stores would impute the ethos of Apple products: playful, easy, creative and hip. By July 2011, there were 326 Apple stores. The average revenue per store was $34 million. Apple Stores catapulted Apple into luxury brand status.

Digital hubs for the new millennium

In 2001, after the dot-com bubble burst, Jobs launched Apple's Digital Hub Strategy, where the computer would become a central hub that connected devices ranging from music players to video recorders. These devices would sync with the computer, and it would manage the user's pictures, music, video and all aspects of a "digital lifestyle." This allowed devices to become much more straightforward. The strategy would work only with tight end-to-end integration between devices, computers and applications. Apple was the only company that could do this.

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iPod and iTunes

The iPod was the first device that emerged from the digital hub strategy. Music players in the 2000's were incredibly complicated to use and could hold only a dozen songs. The iPod held a thousand songs and was stunningly easy to use. Jobs had a simple mantra to ensure design simplicity: No song or function can take over three intuitive user-clicks. Jobs moved $75 million of the marketing budget to the iPod, outspending his competitors a hundred times over. He believed that the iPod would associate Apple with innovation and youth, spurring the sales of all products. Apple completely dominated the market, and iPod sales drove Macintosh sales. By January 2007, iPod sales were half of Apple's revenues.

Jobs convinced record companies and top artists to fight piracy by selling their songs on the iTunes store. Getting a pirated version took fifteen minutes, whereas buying an iTunes song would cost just 99 cents. The iTunes store sold a million songs in just six days and a billion songs by 2007. More importantly, it positioned Apple for the next generation of digital commerce by building a database of 225 million active users by 2011.

Three revolutionary devices

Jobs' next target industry was smartphones. Jobs and the team relentlessly worked to simplify what other phones made complicated. Apple pioneered multi-touch and made a phone that replaced physical keyboards with a fluid software interface. At the launch in 2007, Jobs said that he was introducing three revolutionary products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device. Then he revealed that it was one single device: the iPhone. Within three years, Apple had sold 90 million iPhones and cornered more than half the global cell phone market profits.

The iPad and the App Store

For years Jobs had been eager to show how tablets could be done right. He insisted that the screen was the core essence of the device, and everything else: a feature or a button, had to get out of the way. The iPad's reception was even more frenzied than the iPhone's. The Economist put him on its cover and the New York Times featured articles. He said, "The reason Apple can create products like the iPad is that we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts." Within nine months of launch, Apple had sold 15 million iPads.

The App Store drove the Ipad's success. Users could download hundreds of thousands of apps, each for a few dollars. Jobs initially resisted allowing outside developers to build apps for Apple devices due to quality concerns. Soon he figured out a middle ground: developers could write apps, but they would have to meet Apple's strict quality standards and be sold only through the iTunes Store. This way, thousands could build apps for Apple devices while preserving the integrity of the user experience. The App store created an industry overnight.

One of Jobs's last acts was sharing with Google's Larry Page his recipe for building a great company. He had a theory for why companies decline. Innovation-led success results in a monopoly in a field. Then product quality becomes less important, and salespeople end up running the company. This results in mediocre products, stagnation and eventually decline. Jobs best-embodied innovation at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. His innovations resulted in a series of industry-changing products and took Apple from bankruptcy to being the most valuable company on earth. Ultimately, he fulfilled his greatest dream: building a company with a DNA of innovation that outlasts its founder.

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