The Steve Jobs We Should’ve Known (Better)

The Crazy Ones Apple Poster

Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli

Whenever I think, talk or write about Steve Jobs post-2011, I never want to use past tense. So did John Lasseter and Tim Cook as I learnt in Becoming Steve Jobs. They wouldn’t delete Steve’s number from the phone when both men gathered and remembered their friend at Laurene’s 50th birthday in 2013.

From the moment I encountered his Stanford commencement speech at a college English class in 2007, I became mesmerized by the man who thinks like a geek while converses in prose.

As I read books and articles about Jobs, I stumbled upon his meticulously-prepared MacWorld keynotes. Being a math idiot (though I’m Chinese), numbers wear me down. But when Steve presents those sales figures and financial statements, I find myself glued to the seat soaking them all in which all make sense to me and seem insanely sexy. If the Cupertino company didn’t turn around, I think Jobs can always do a great job teaching math — giving America a chance to beat the Chinese kids on the math playground once and for all.

If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.
Don’t settle.

Over the years after college looking for the passion of my life, I’ve probably listened to his commencement speech for about hundreds, if not thousands, of times. But the more I listen, the more I feel nonplused —

Why a man of such empathy and humanity can also be such a jerk
as Jobs is notoriously labeled in more than a few high-profile reports?

I couldn’t understand. I would rationalize that maybe he is kinda crazy, or he is indeed binary, or it has something to do with his being adopted from birth, as they say… I sometimes wish I could just pick up the phone and call him up, like he did calling Bill Hewlett for a job at thirteen.

When the most anticipated one and only book authorized by Steve, authored by the renowned biographer Walter Isaacson came out, I finished it in days. But still, it seemed to rest the case on him being half genius, half jerk.

is that really it?

As the world evolves after Steve’s death, I fear that we would put up the “Business as Usual” sign as if he never mattered — Apple keeps shipping popular products and extraordinary financial results under Tim Cook’s precise operation and Sir Jony Ive’s savvy designs.

When I heard there was this new book about Steve, I was curious, albeit suspicious. After spending days staying up reading, I found myself too reluctant to race through to the last page. I lingered, I pondered, I devoured and weighed every word. I just didn’t want it to end. I echo with what Jim Collins says about Steve Jobs —

I wish I could have seen Steve Jobs 3.0.
Seeing him from age fifty-five to seventy-five
would have been fascinating.

Nonetheless as I close the book, I find this really is the best and only book capturing the Steve Jobs, bar none.

The two authors care enough to print out the full text of the Think Different ad copy, the fifteen-minute long 2005 Stanford commencement, and Laurene’s poignant remarks at Steve’s memorial service.

For the first time, I understand why I was drawn to this extraordinary human being from the very beginning. He won me, and the countless others, over not with his glibness, or his so-called RDF (Reality Distortion Field), but his beautiful soul and his relentless faith in humanity.

A few years back where there was nil Apple Store in China, I would advocate Apple products to my friends like an evangelist. Most of them would say the price was way out of their league. If the book came out earlier, I could have rebutted —

Look, you don’t have to buy its latest products to feel the Apple experience.
Read this book will do.

In every Pixar animation, the Good always overcomes the Evil in the end. For the first time, this good book doesn’t quote Steve swearing without offering its readers a fuller context and the authors’ perceptions; this good book doesn’t simplify Steve’s Shakespearean character by referring to the he’s-just-being-an-asshole cliché. Like Steve who cares deeply about his consumers — “we’re stupid if they can’t use these devices,” the authors empathize with Steve’s tremendous layers in return.

Avatar (2009)

With the help of the thoughtful authors,
for the very first time,
see the man as his closest friends and confidants see him.
I always know he’s
now I know
why, and how come.
It’s not his second act that fascinates us,
it’s his
evolution over the decades
becoming the
Steve Jobs we come to admire.

The man who set out to “put a dent in the universe” and ultimately did change the world to “a planet with better designers.”

Steve’s is a growth story. But the truth is, we all are.

Postscript —

I probably should burn the stark pale Isaacson version on my bookshelf which Tim Cook and Jony Ivy have vocally disapproved.

Apart from the disservice the book has done to the man, I never feel anything in the lines except the matter-of-factly tone. It seems to me a mere thrust-to-me task to rush to finish against Mr. Jobs’s drastic deterioration in health. Isaacson didn’t bother enough to dig out the ‘why’ behind Steve’s brash and boorish behaviors but simply linking them to his being an abandoned child from birth.

I adore Becoming Steve Jobs. I feel the fervor oozing out of the words. I find the writers care enough to list facts and guide us to see what they see, to conduct thorough interviews with Steve’s colleagues and frenemies, and to feed readers with intimate anecdotes they have with him personally over the decades of reporting, which, eventually, helped to complete the dauntingly complex jigsaws.

Kudos to Mr. Brent Schlender and Mr. Rick Tetzeli.

And one more thing —

Toy Story (1995)

Mr. Steve Jobs,
you’ve got a friend in all of us.