Book Review: Steve Jobs Biography (by Walter Isaacson)

When Steve Jobs retired I posted an entry recognizing him for his rebound/recovery from obvious failures.  I have always been impressed with that – even more so than the products he created.

I just finished his biography, and posted a review on LinkedIn.  For this blog entry I thought I would post a few thoughts for those of you thinking about reading it or those wanting to compare notes.

  1. Is it a book about being an effective leader?  Yes and no – there are great leadership lessons in it, but I still ascribe to the Blanchard definition of leadership – “Leadership is an influence process.  It is about working with people to accomplish their goals and the goals of the organization.”  This is worth a longer conversation – but do not make it a book study for your exec team or high potential leadership group. 🙂
  2. Is it for an Apple product lover or a non-Apple product owner?  Yes and yes.  Based on sales numbers, I am not sure there are too many of the latter, but the product chapters are fascinating.  Remember my perspective is that of a new iPhone owner (4 months) and I bought it for two reasons:  1) Look cool(er) to my kids  2) Explore all the Apple hype many of my friends have been preaching for years.  (fyi – it is still just a phone, but a cool phone. 🙂 )
  3. The best part of this book for me is the completeness of the story.  The good and the bad are told, and in the end Steve Jobs was just a guy doing lots of great things and making lots of mistakes along the way.  Some he fixed, and many he did not, and that is what all our stories would look like if they were written down.  It is well written and when I finished the book I felt like I do not need to read any more about him – I get him.

Below is a picture of the pages that I really liked reading – page number on the left and a few words describing it on the right.  I do this in many of my books so I can go back and find passages I liked.  It is a good read!

Failure (continuing a thought from Seth Godin)

 Learning from a failure is critical. Connecting effort with failure at an emotional level is crippling. After all, we’ve already agreed you did your best.

Early in our careers, we’re encouraged to avoid failure, and one way we do that is by building up a set of emotions around failure, emotions we try to avoid, and emotions that we associate with the effort of people who fail. It turns out that this is precisely the opposite of the approach of people who end up succeeding.

See entire post from Seth Godin.

Great leaders make lots of mistakes.  They get the title GREAT LEADER because they push through the mistakes and get on with things.  In the end, they make more good/great decisions than bad ones.

I have learned over the years that many of these same leaders had to grow through getting hung up on thinking about some of those bad decisions.  No one really accepts failure with no pain, some just dwell on it less.  In addition, too often their people are still pointing at the bad decision and going “See!” – but doing it secretly.

So how does a leader get through this?  One way is to process bad decisions openly with their team so everyone learns from those choices – including them.  It shows transparency, vulnerability, creates safety for other people to step forward, and teaches people to problem solve and push through.

When I see leaders saying I am sorry and leveraging their team to learn I stop and pay attention.  It takes a special leader to do that and a special follower to allow it.  I like being part of teams like that.

Is Failure The End?

I went to a class sponsored by our local chamber of commerce this week.  The presenter was terrible and it was two hours of wasted content.  The benefit was that it got me thinking about when we fail, what it means, and what it should mean.

A mentor of mine, Doug Silsbee, once shared the observation that “We have to shift from a success/failure belief system.”  As a startup, I have that posted on a piece of paper on my desk to give me some perspective on viewing good and bad days.  I am not to the point where I want to ban the word because it has power.  It has the power to be positive if we do things with it.  Here are three ways failure can be a building block: 

  1. If it means the beginning of something – In Parker Palmer’s classic book  Let Your Life Speak he shares some wisdom from a Quaker elder.  She said “A lot of way(doors) has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.”  Failure should be a guide on a journey, not an end.  The ability to see it and process it this way does take some strength and maturity, but it will make a huge difference on your journey.
  2. It is only part of what defines us – When I talk to groups around career choices and job searches one of the main themes I use is ‘Your Story’, and that any resume, LinkedIn profile, or references should tell our story.  Part of our story are failures in jobs, projects, and degrees.  When I hire I want to hear them and hear how the person has processed them.  It is that part of our story that helps us either not repeat past mistakes or handle the same situation differently to produce a different outcome.
  3. We learn empathy –  Let’s face it, to walk off the stage after a poor presentation, get escorted out of our workplace, or fly home from a failed selling presentation it hurts.  But once we experience it we understand what it feels like and what kinds of darker choices enter our mind when the memory is fresh.  By dark, I mean the emotions or things you want to do to lash out at those you view as responsible.  I will stop here.  If you have been here you know what I mean, and being familiar with this place allows us to guide others past it and on to better places.

The final thought is that failure often needs a friend.  Someone to come along side you, help identify the event for what it was, and help put some positive energy into the event that will allow you to move along.  Gallup did a study that identified the positive outcomes of having 3 friends at work.  Buried in the reasons is the benefit of having someone familiar with you that can help process these moments.  It is not the only reason for building relationships at work, but it is a significant one. 

I hope the presenter makes our time together the beginning of something better.