University of Calgary

Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson speaks candidly to Haskayne crowd about the Apple genius

UToday HomeApril 25, 2013

By Kathleen Crowley

Walter Isaacson speaks at the Haskayne School of Business - BMO Financial Group Forum in Scurfield Hall. Photo by Riley BrandtWalter Isaacson speaks at the Haskayne School of Business - BMO Financial Group Forum in Scurfield Hall. Photo by Riley BrandtBiographer Walter Isaacson shared the good, the bad and the brilliance of Apple creator Steve Jobs with an audience at the Haskayne School of Business on April 23. Isaacson drew on details from his biography of Jobs, but also shared unpublished, intimate insights into the life of a man who changed the world.

Isaacson had rare and privileged access to Jobs. He bore witness to Jobs’ resignation from Apple just two months before his death in October 2011 and to final visits, including one from Jobs’ nemesis, Microsoft’s Bill Gates – a reconciliation of sorts.

The biography, Steve Jobs, was based on more than 40 interviews with Jobs over the two years preceding his death, and interviews with more than 100 family members, friends, adversaries and colleagues. Calling himself an “old-school journalist” who is interested in facts, Isaacson says he did not compromise on painting a true picture of his subject. His book has high praise for Jobs’ creative genius and uncompromising pursuit of perfection. It also does not shy away from references to the side of Jobs’ personality that was seemingly harsh and unfair. “He could be a jerk in many respects but an innovator and creative entrepreneur. He wanted to change the world and he did. A jerk with passion and resolve.”

Isaacson advised students to be innovators, to think differently, be crazy enough to think they might change the world and to take heed of Jobs’ approach to business: “He had a passion for perfection – that is clear from the products he created. Jobs believed that if your passion is making a profit, you’ll cut corners here and there and your product won’t be all it should be. But if your passion is to make a great product then profit will follow. Don’t skimp on making it a really beautiful product.”

A challenge in writing the biography, said Isaacson, was to get at “what it was that created the personality that was Steve Jobs.” He talked about Jobs’ personal history as an adopted child. “Jobs said what drove him was his adoptive mother’s assertion that he was ‘chosen’ and ‘special’.”

In his closing remarks, Isaacson shared some detail of Job’s last days and final thoughts, including ideas he might have tackled next. “He felt he had been lucky and lived a good life. And ultimately he said the goal in life should be not what you can accumulate, not what you take out, but what you put back in.”

Isaacson was the former chairman of CNN and managing editor of TIME magazine. In 2012, TIME named him one of the world’s top 100 most influential people. His written legacy includes biographies of other men of genius whose works have changed the world – Benjamin Franklin and Einstein.


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