Review: Inside Steve’s Brain

Even though we’re all currently interested in what’s inside Steve’s torso, Inside Steve’s Brain is a pretty good examination of the work life of Steve Jobs. It’s a quick, enjoyable read, with lots of juicy Apple tidbits.

Inside Steve’s Brain takes as its starting point that other biographies of Steve Jobs’ haven’t taken into account exactly why Jobs is so successful, only his abrasive management style. As author Leander Kahney puts it

Most books about Jobs are depressing reads. They’re dismissive, little more than catalogs of tantrums and abuse. No wonder he calls them “hatchet jobs.” Where’s the genius?

Kahney sets out to rectify this. This would be the place to note that if you don’t at least somewhat admire Jobs or what he’s done, you probably won’t enjoy this book. As the title suggests, it’s all about Jobs.

The book is filled with some good anecdotes about how Jobs works. Cordell Ratzlaff’s discussed how OS X was designed in Designing Interactions, but here he goes into detail about Jobs’ involvement and it starts out brutally:

Ratzlaff and his designers were sitting in a conference room waiting for Jobs, when he walked in and immediately called them “a bunch of amateurs.” “You’re the guys who designed the Mac OS, right?” he asked them. They sheepishly nodded yes. “Well, you’re a bunch of idiots.”

Fortunately, their relationship gets better from there, but Jobs puts them through their paces, having them spend, for instance, six months working on the scrollbars until they worked to Jobs’ satisfaction.

Jobs’ attention to detail is the theme that runs through the book, and it certainly goes far, far beyond the level of involvement that most CEOs have with the products their company produce (at least in my experience). Jobs demands multiple versions of every piece of software and hardware, spending hours comparing and reviewing the prototypes.

As John Sculley notes, Jobs doesn’t design anything, yet he seems to design everything. This book might be the most complete look at what a design managers, VPs of design, or creative directors should be doing to improve their products. We can’t all have the charisma or willpower (and just plain power) of a Steve Jobs, but we can all be obsessive about the details and urge the designers around us to strive for more, for better.

Recommended.