Good book: Inside Steve’s Brain

Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney

I’m still making my way through this relatively compact book (about 200 pages)–typical of me I tend to read multiple books at once–but so far I can say this is a fabulously compelling and insightful look at Apple’s product innovation process and philosophy, all emanating from perhaps one of the most extraordinary individuals in the business. This is not some gossip rag (although there are some admittedly juicy morsels of his temper). In fact it’s more like a business case study, with examples from Apple as well as Pixar, and references to Chiat/Day.

As the author describes, there’s a fascinating mirroring between Steve’s personality and Apple’s business/brand/design–his persona truly manifests and makes their business, perhaps unlike any other company that I can think of, short of Disney (Walt Disney), Ben & Jerry’s, or Dyson (James Dyson)! Most enjoyable (and valuable takeaways) are the “Steve’s Lessons” at the end of each chapter itemizing classic Steve-isms like “Everyone’s either a bozo or a genius” or general principles such as the obsessive drive to focus and simplify (hint, hint all you product managers chronically infected with featuritis!) or pay attention to details, even at the pixel level.

The mix of quotes and anecdotes from Jonathan Ive, Steve Jobs, and various others (including my former Cisco VTG UX boss, Cordell Ratzlaff) provide delicious fodder for those clamoring for examples/evidence to point to in the face of design skepticism at the office. Every product manager, engineer, QA engineer, and related professional engaged in hi-tech innovation simply must read this book. Every designer should read this book (particularly if you are jaded, cynical, or have given up) to re-energize your passion and imagination…and fire up the will to make “insanely great” products.

On a bit of a downer note, the author’s writing suggests that a hi-tech company desiring breakthrough products can only achieve it if the CEO truly *gets* design, users/customers, innovation, and has that amazingly innate knack for “picking a winner”. The CEO’s personality must equal the business. Which is probably why companies like HP, IBM, SAP, Microsoft, Dell, AT&T, and similar corporate behemoths whose CEO’s don’t give a damn about good design (or have at best a weak, commercially hyped sense of “user experience” as insipid lip service) will never achieve the Apple level of perceived excellence. In that regard, Apple and Steve Jobs exemplify a powerfully unique model that may never happen again in silicon valley. So soak it up now!

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