Steve Jobs’ Biography: World Changing or Sugared Water?

Word is that Steve Jobs has hired a writer to do his biography. 

Typically, this is something someone does towards the end of their life and can take one of several forms.

I think this may be an opportunity to “Think Different” and create something that could better benefit his progeny, future apple employees and CEOs, and possibly be the first definitive 4th generation eBook. In other words he has one more chance to change the world.  

I’m going to quickly take you through the kinds of biography that might be written by Steve and conclude with the approach I think he should take.   I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on the topic if you care to post them below.

Type One: The Tell All

This type typically sells well initially but loses interest over time because this kind of biography focuses on the bad behavior of the folks who surround the subject of the biography. These things are juicy but because the most of these other folks that the tales are told about tend to be marginally famous and are often forgotten after a few years of their leaving office or retiring.  

Excerpts from the book can last longer and show up in works focusing on those that have lasting fame but the reality is a tell-all biography is more about other people’s activities and stories than the activities of the person the book is actually supposed to be about. These things tend to be written out of a need to make money and revenge. I don’t think Steve needs the money and while he is known for being vindictive he has other tools that likely would be more effective if he wants to nail someone to the wall.  

Type Two: Glowing Fiction

This type
of biography is largely a fictional retelling of the subject’s life through rose colored glasses. This kind of book sells better to fans and Steve Jobs has a lot of those. It can also be lasting because it enhances the fame of the person it is about if it is released close to the subject’s death.   

The reason for that release date is that people are less likely to attack its inconsistencies during that window and by the time the window closes the interest in what they have to say likely has lapsed so critics are less effective or memorable with their comments. 

The problem with this approach is the people near the subject and the subject themselves  all know that this is fiction which doesn’t reflect well on their long term memory of the subject and the subject is effectively saying that against their own bar of success they failed and had to cheat, by fabricating a better story, to appear successful. I think this approach is the one Steve Jobs is likely to take but I think he will regret it and it will set an impossible bar for any following Apple CEO to meet.  

Type Three: Random Facts

There seem to be a number of these out there on Steve at the moment. This one is one of the more random, bunch of facts but little in the way of a story to hold them together. This can happen if the subject tries to write his or her own biography and does it really badly. 

Doubtful that will happen here but I’m including this because there are some incredibly bad biographies on the web and there is always a chance that the result of over editing by the subject will result in a horrid book. Steve Jobs is a bit of a control freak and he isn’t a writer and the combination does create a risk but I think this outcome is unlikely.  

Type 4:  Lessons from Life

Some of the best books on Steve Jobs are “Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs” and “Inside Steve’s Brain. These books don’t focus on smearing others or making Steve appear divine, they convey some of the lessons he has learned and help others learn from them. 

Steve is the only CEO I’ve followed closely who ever took a company from near bankruptcy to the most envied company in their segment. He actually emulated Sony and built a better Sony than Sony ever was or likely will be.   

This is the kind of thing that probably happens once in 100 years or more and the lessons Steve could teach should he choose to do so about how his successes and mistakes transformed him into the CEO of last decade could be invaluable to the generations that followed him in his family, company, and world. They would have to be real lessons though and he would have to discuss what he learned from peers, employees, children, friends and others both good and bad otherwise the lessons will be false and not have the positive impact they might otherwise have. 

In short, for once, he should focus a lot more on the substance then the image but it would be a combination of both that would make it interesting and readable. 

First 4th Generation eBook Biography

The iPad will be one of the first 4th generation eBook readers. The first generation came out a decade ago, the second generation was highlighted by the Kindle and focused on the back end service and ePaper, the third is short lived and updated the platform with newspaper and magazine formatting, and the 4th includes multi-media. 

The first 3 generations can use existing content, to make the 4th shine requires thinking about the platform differently, weaving in multi-media effectively and possibly allowing the eBook to reformat itself for the reader dynamically.  Steve Jobs and his team are one of the few organizations that could actually imagine what an eBook biography could look like.

Ray Kurzweil and the Blio team are another but we don’t yet have a book that really showcases the full power of something like the iPad. This biography could be that and Jobs has access to Disney, Pixar and Apple resources that could create something amazing. 

Wrapping Up:

With all Steve Jobs success the one thing he initially wanted to do was change the world. When he offered John Scully the job (which, by the way, should be on his mistake list) he more than implied that John by leaving Pepsi had the chance to change the world. The line is “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want to have a chance to change the world”?

He didn’t and Apple is still largely the sugared water equivalent in the computing industry against companies that are at the core of medical research, science, space exploration, and information management (Google, in contrast, is focused on changing the world, which may not be a good thing).  

Unlike Bill Gates, who felt he had to use philanthropy and leave his job to have the impact he needed, Steve needs to take a different path. With this one book Steve Jobs has a choice, he can either tell a compelling story, and we love our sugared water, or he could actually leave something behind that could change the world into a better place. 

What path do you think he should take? (You don’t have to pick from my choices).

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.