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Finally finished reading the 500+ pages detailed autobiography of one of the most influential tech personality of the modern world, the ‘Apple’ man Steve Jobs. Most autobiographies influence you in a positive fashion and you tend to learn from them unknowingly but with this one, you tend to like reading about Steve Jobs but it does not leave a good taste about him as a person because of the way he treated the people in his office and in life in general. I mean howsoever intelligent, influential, powerful you might be but that’s a waste if you cannot treat your fellow beings with dignity and respect. I specifically remember one very powerful thought from Sachin Tendulkar’s autobiography, which Sachin’s father (Ramesh Tendulkar) taught him and that is of being remembered as a great human being than a great cricketer. To quote what his father said to him:

“How many years will you play the sport? Twenty years; if you are very good, maybe even twenty-five years. Even by that yardstick, you will live the majority of your years outside the sphere of professional sport. This clearly means there is more to life than cricket. I am asking you, son, to keep a pleasant disposition and maintain a balanced nature. Do not allow success to breed arrogance in you. If you remain humble, people will give you love and respect even after you have finished with the game. As a parent, I would be happier hearing people say, “Sachin is a good human being” than “Sachin is a great cricketer” any day.”

Some people might say I, am comparing apples with oranges here, as the area of work for both the individuals is different. But even if that is true, treating human beings and their self-dignity with utmost care should be at the forefront, no matter which sport or business you are into. And that’s where, when it comes to learning from the life of Steve Jobs, you feel ok he was great, he was visionary, he changed the lives of millions but at the same time he was horribly wrong on one of the most important aspects of being human and that is empathy, which he lacked.

Steve Jobs life is full of twists and turns, packed with full emotions and drama at times. However, the most important quality about Steve Jobs that stands out is his vision and to work relentlessly to achieve that vision at any cost, no matter what. This approach actually led him to get the best from whosoever he worked with. And the people who could not bear his approach eventually left him or were fired. He always used to assert on working with A-players and separated and fired the B-players which he found incompetent. He would always make sure that the end-user experience is as simple as possible in all of his products be it Mac, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, iPad etc. and to achieve that simplicity in products he would behave as complexly rude as possible with the colleagues, subordinates. He would even comment an idea suggested by any colleague as, “Utter bullshit” idea and then in the next team meeting would highlight that same idea as “Excellent” and as his own in front of everyone, without acknowledging the owner of the idea. There are multiple examples given about this typical behaviour of Steve Jobs in his autobiography.

While reading such things about Steve Jobs I used to always remember one line from Gulzaar’s (very well known Oscar winner poet/lyricist from India) songs and the line goes like this:

“Badi nichi rahe hai uchaiyo ki”

Meaning – The path to success goes through lowest of terrains.

This line of Gulzaar saab can be interpreted in many different ways, as per your understanding and experience. But somehow that line always rang a bell in my conscience during the entire span of reading this autobiography. Also, one more thing that kept me surprised was he was a regular reader of “The Autobiography of a Yogi” (Autobiography of Swami Yogananda, which I have read and should be at the top on the list of autobiography readers)  but none of that reading actually was seen in his behaviour with other people. Even after facing death in the later part of his life, his egomaniac attitude continued till the very end. I mean Steve Jobs’s autobiography is actually a roller coaster ride, where at times it so happens that you start developing a soft corner for Steve but suddenly you read about his behavioural whims and fancies and you tend to get neutral or even getting puzzled as to “was he really such a jerk?”.

Having said that I still enjoyed the entire read, his struggles with himself as a person, the reality distortion field, the unwavering sharp pointed look, his observations about the eastern and the western world where he always used to rate East’s ‘Intuition and Experiential wisdom’ over West’s ‘Science and Intellect’, his issues with his family, his relationship with his daughter etc. About copying stuff, he had openly criticized Microsoft, Google throughout his life but he himself had copied the idea of computers from Xerox PARC. To quote it directly from the book:

“The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the biggest heists in the chronicles of the industry. Jobs occasionally endorsed this view, with pride. As he once said, “Picasso had a saying, ‘good artist copy, great artists steal’ and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.” 

By the end of the autobiography, all the events in the life of Steve Jobs, help you formulate his image in your mind and I must say other than being a great visionary and perfectionist the image that forms in the mind of the reader is not a favourable one. I mean these are my thoughts and people are free to disagree with it. Having said that in the last chapter (chapter 42) Walter Isaacson has shared Steve Jobs thoughts in his own words, about his life in general and his way of doing things and they are pretty justifiable. But all that matters, in the end, is how you are remembered as a human being and what legacy you have left behind. In the case of Steve Jobs, he has left behind a legacy of some great products, great companies, great transformations coupled with lack of empathy and respect for others.

Thanks

Sarang