Book review: What Would Steve Jobs Do?

Book review: What Would Steve Jobs Do?

Summary: This book is neither a biography of Steve Jobs nor a history of Apple. Instead, it attempts to distill the Apple co-founder's work into some fairly basic business advice.


It's hard to know how seriously to take a book about innovation and leadership in business that comes up with this howler: "The last IBM breakthrough doesn't even come to mind". Even if you dismiss hard drives, floppy disks, DRAM, the scanning tunnelling microscope, relational databases and ATMs — all invented at IBM — with "Yes, but what has IBM done for us lately?", there's still 2011's Watson, the Jeopardy champion with a future as a medical diagnostic assistant.

Watson could hardly have been given greater or more admiring media coverage. But it's possible that Peter Sander, the author of What Would Steve Jobs Do? was living in a cave filled with Jobs' Reality Distortion Field at the time.


If you have ever travelled in the American South, you've probably seen the phrase "What Would Jesus Do?" on billboards, church signs and even personal jewellery, sometimes abbreviated to WWJD. The idea is that this is what you're supposed to ask yourself at moments of uncertainty: it makes Jesus your conscious role model. The conscious evocation of this slogan in this book's title tells you right off: this is not going to be a critical book about Jobs, his company or his leadership. Still, the man built one of the greatest business success stories of recent years, and so it's a legitimate question: what can business owners and managers learn from the decisions that Steve Jobs made, and how can they apply those lessons to the decisions they have to make every day? Can they, too, create an innovation culture in their companies?

Sander makes clear from the outset that he's not writing a either a biography of Jobs or a history of Apple. That's just as well. It's clear from the outset that Sander simply doesn't have the grasp of technical or historical detail to do either. Although it's possible some of the numerous small errors that grate could be put down to sloppy editing, claims such as the one early on that Apple had "virtually no acquisitions" ignores a history of dozens of acquisitions from 1988 to the present — acquisitions costing in the hundreds of millions of dollars, including such significant technologies as Siri, flash memory and music streaming.

The IBM comment above forms part of an argument that invention isn't enough by itself; innovation or changing the game requires inventing things with a customer and a marketable vision in mind. While it's certainly true that some companies have failed to exploit their inventions (Xerox being an obvious example), it's also true that without the basic research done by IBM and others the technologies that Apple fashions into innovative products would not exist.

Sanders' main effort, however, goes into distilling Jobs's work into some fairly basic advice. Have a vision. Understand what the customer doesn't yet know that he or she wants. Don't let research and development become cut off from the rest of the company. Find rule-breakers with passion. And so on.

If you like your business advice potted, this may be the book for you. But if you really want to understand Steve Jobs's business modus operandi, you might do better to study it in context. We'd recommend Charles Arthur's Digital Wars, which charts the comparative paths and fortunes of Apple, Google and Microsoft from 1998 to 2011, as a better bet.

What Would Steve Jobs Do? How the Steve Jobs Way Can Inspire Anyone to Think Differently and Win
By Peter Sander
McGraw Hill
215 pages
ISBN: 9780071792745

Topics: Apple, Reviews, After Hours

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  • You missed Apple's biggest acquisition

    Fingerworks, without which Apple wouldn't have had the iPhone or the iPad. Apple has been completely unable to come up with intuitive touch UIs by itself and the Newton is evidence of this. It was terrible, both technically and from a sales perspective. It was widely rejected by the market. People hated it.

    I'll give Apple credit. Apple knows it can't innovate so it plays to its strengths: acquisitions and using the legal system to knock competitors out of business.
    • fingerworks was a gesture company!

      As I remeber fingerworks made Gesture recognition (and keyboards).
      Gestures came to the IPAD (not IPhone) in ios5, so its not a crucial factor.

      The macbooks wouldn´t be that awesome without that outstanding gesture recognition ;)

      Also the patent war between apple & samsung showed that apple developed the UI itself (Steve Jobs prohibited hiring anybody outside apple).
      btw. what has the newton to do with this?
      • forget gestures

        I forgot pinch to zoom ;)
        btw. fingerworks had the gesture recognition technology, but they had not pinch to zoom, thats an apple invention
        • Actually

          It looks like Pinch to zoom was stolen by Apple and I believe the UK said the patent wasn't valid.
    • That's not what I have heard

      The people I know that own the Newton loved it! They claim even the iPad sucks compared to its functionality.

      As for it being gone, Jobs killed it because it wasn't his so he didn't want that group to have any credit.
  • What would Steve Jobs do?

    Easy to answer. Just follow these simple rules:
    1. Take existing technology and give it a cutesy name (i.e. IEEE 802.11 becomes AirPort)
    2. Make it look different even though the guts of the box are commodity hardware
    3. Get a whole bunch of "look and feel" patents on otherwise obvious ideas
    4. Start an advertising campaign to convince a lot of people that items 1+2+3 = "think different"
    4. Sue everyone. This is about like Ford suing GM on the grounds that "we had round wheels before you did so pay us or go out of business"

    Darn, I should have written a book!
  • he would yell a lot and threaten to fire everyone

    summed the book up
    • Slim* management

      It's the next step on from lean management.

      * Slim - Shouting Loudest in Meetings.
  • Capitalism at work

    Here's another opportunistic writer trying to cash in on Job's legacy whilst the memory is still relatively fresh.

    Expect another brilliant title like "What would Gates do?" or What would Buffet do?" should the author outlive the celebrity subjects he's exploiting.
    Tech watcher
    • More like "profiteering", which is the darker side of "capitalism"

      He's an opportunist, but when it comes to money, nobody can survive without it.
  • Based on known actions (do web searches for proof)

    he'd park in handicapped zones, be informed of product defects by engineers but let the item go on sale just so he can yell at people saying how they are holding the phone wrong, be a foulmouthed diva to photographers during a photoshoot, lie about why he offshores jobs and badmouth the educational system (an irony, noting you don't need a fancy degree to apply excessive amounts of thermal grease to a CPU and let it die of heat death sooner...)

    The man was a CEO and marketer, spinning verbiage to charm and enthrall customers. That's what salesmen do, though what made him engage in the atypical gaffe of blaming them for a problem he knew about beforehand... maybe old people really do lose their marbles and the ageists are correct... oh well...
    • Have children and then disown them

      Considering this man was a multi-billionaire, he was the world's biggest deadbeat dad by far. No one else comes close.
      • He got smarter (people-wise) as he got sicker.

        The way he originally handled the situation with his daughter can't be defended. He was young and dumb (people-wise). Lots of us were. But he seemed to mellow considerably as he realized the seriousness of his illness. Too bad it takes a two-by-four to the head to knock sense into us sometimes.
        • Umm

          Then why are you trying to justify it?
  • Good Lord - What Next?

    Another "Steve Jobs was the most amazing person ever" tribute? Really? Steve Jobs is worshiped because the company he ran made tons of money, and in a Capitalistic driven economy, profits are king. Doesn't matter how you make them (just ask the Chinese). Apple's products are nothing special. They use the same hardware as all the other computers, cell phones, tablets, etc. What Apple was/is a master at, is Marketing. Making people *think* their products are better, and then charging more for them so people think they are getting something special. Apple owes its success to the dumb buying public. And from what I have read, Steve Jobs was arrogant, self important, demanding, condescending and a horror to work for. So let's just put the whole Steve Jobs was the most amazing person ever, to rest.
    • Odd, because he adopted the Walt Disney approach

      to business, and yet gets all the credit for something Walt Disney did long before him.

      Oh well, the book will sell well because people with think it's full of insight, when in reality, all the author did was repackage that which people already knew about.
      William Farrel
  • Forget Jobs

    What would Brian Boitano do?
    • WWJD?

      "Ah, Father? I think I have changed my mind. I'm not really sure anymore if these people are worth getting nailed to that contraption for."

      How about Brian? He seems eager enough.
      John Zern
  • What Would Jesus Do?

    Run into a bank and knock over all the loan officers' tables.

    Answer yes/no/maybe when asked if he was the son of God.

    Claim his father had forseken him.

    Get born at two different times (during the time of Herod the Great, and during the Roman Census).

    Say that Old Testament law still applied, and then say that it didn't.

    Forget the Ten Commandments.