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Steve Jobs's Real Genius (newyorker.com)
414 points by iamclovin on Nov 7, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments

It has some truth to it, but ignores a lot of salient facts in favor of a cute argument (insert Gladwell dig here).

Steve Jobs' had many parts to his genius. Tweaking products until they were really finished was one.

But I would say the most important (and impressive) part of his genius was holistic thinking. He wasn't a programmer, a hardware engineer, an industrial designer, an advertising copywriter, or an architect, etc. But he deeply understood the essentials of those fields and was able to harness them to create a hugely successful business and set of products.

Another part of his genius was to pick the best talent and get the most out of them.

This is all obvious, but after reading Isaacson's book, which was quite good, this article is basically fluff. Gladwell basically just adds this marginally related story about tweakers so the entire article isn't regurgitating all the interesting anecdotes from the bio.

EDIT: Also, the use of the word "tweaker" is a stupid rhetorical trick -- the article is basically a troll.

"In contrast, Jobs’s vision, brilliant and perfect as it was, was narrow. He was a tweaker to the last, endlessly refining the same territory he had claimed as a young man."

Really? Does anyone honestly believe a person that was CEO of 2 different companies that changed industries has a narrow vision? This is willfully ignoring reality to make a cute little article.

It's also important not to leave out his ability to convince people of his vision. From Jurveston:

"During this time, corporate partners came to appreciate Steve’s enthusiasm as the Reality Distortion Field. Sun Microsystems went so far as to have a policy that no contract could be agreed to while Steve was in the room. They needed to physically remove themselves from the mesmerizing magic to complete the negotiation."

He used it in negotiations, with employees, with customers, and partners. I know he certainly used it with me - I eventually had to _force_ myself never to watch a product rollout by Jobs, I was so incapable of not becoming infatuated with the next great thing he would reveal...

Outside of his RDF, I still believe, that essentially, his central accomplishment was to take technical gadgets, refine, demand, and finesse, until they came out so beautifully put together, we just had to have them.

His ability to attract and motivate great talent was probably the third prong that contributed to his success. And you are right, to suggest he was just a tweaker, is a gladwellic troll that he's posing to simplify a scenario to fit in well with his article.

That's a book I'd love to read: "How to Mesmerize Like Steve Jobs"

All you gotta do is explore is cosmology, psychology, and Buddha-nature. Steve did the thinking that most were afraid to do and convinced with tenacity.

>Gladwell [...] adds this marginally related story about tweakers so the entire article isn't regurgitating [...] anecdotes

I think you're missing the main point here. The computer revolution, as a large scale technological and social transformation, does bear comparison to the Industrial Revolution. Where does someone like Steve Jobs stand in this comparison? He was obviously neither the inventor of a fundamental technological advance (James Watt) nor the guy who provided the money and business expertise (Matthew Boulton). The article makes a good case that the closest analogy is actually with the people who took Watt's steam engine and eventually improved its efficiency fourfold (and, BTW, the term "tweakers" comes from the referenced Meisenzahl & Mokyr paper).

I said as much -- there is some truth to it.

However, there are thousands/millions of people that are "tweakers". That isn't Jobs' only talent or even his most salient characteristic. (The title of the article is "Steve Job's real genius".)

Did any of the tweakers mentioned in the article start 3 companies and make billions doing it?

I think it is backlash for giving Jobs all the credit for everything, which is a mistake. I agree he didn't "invent" the iPhone, as Obama claimed. He led its development. But it's an equal mistake to say that all he did was tweak things, which the article claims explicitly.

Here's a PDF of the Meisenzahl, Mokyr paper:


Yes, many of the "tweakers" discussed did achieve success in multiple business ventures (and took patents).

It's not a disparaging term, so there's no reason to call it backlash. This is simply an observation that there is a (often overlooked) class of people who are 1. technically competent 2. very good at polishing and perfecting others' ideas, rather than coming up with them de novo.

The paper credits these people with playing the main part in the Industrial Revolution, and it's actually quite creditable to say Steve Jobs might have been among the best of them.

Being a tweaker is a fair assessment of Steve Jobs merit. One month after his death, this article is the first balanced article I've read among more than one hundred hagiographies posted all over the web.

History will judge.

Okay, I'll bite...what did Jobs create that wasn't just an improvement over something someone else had already done?

No one really "creates" anything if one isn't allowed to build off of what already exists. We would literally be re-inventing the wheel right now if we weren't allowed to look at past inventions. Gladwell is one of those authors who appeal to the masses with his oversimplified pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo. I'd like to know what Gladwell has actually innovated in his life or how he changed the world.

"But I would say the most important (and impressive) part of his genius was holistic thinking. He wasn't a programmer, a hardware engineer, an industrial designer, an advertising copywriter, or an architect, etc. But he deeply understood the essentials of those fields and was able to harness them to create a hugely successful business and set of products."

I still have no clue about how he managed to do it. For example, I think that Cocoa and Next technologies are very elegant and are at the foundation of Apple current success. Yet how can you lead the developments of those technologies if you don't understand them. Why it didn't go the same way, of let say, Symbian.

I'm not an expert in CS (not even close), but to me it looks like there is very little crust on Apple technologies. And I don't think that this is the case for all the other mayor tech companies, where I observe a significative amount of technical debt. One explanation might be that there was great technical people on board and in charge. But this is the norm for all multinationals. How he managed to design so few products that are "bad apples" (pun intended).

This is a really core issue for me. I'm a business guy by education (two Masters of Management) who always has been oriented to software development (I always liked it and the basis of C always have been intuitive). When the App Store launched I started to work with a CS Engineer to develop an app. While the arrangement was workable, I felt I was missing so much without the proper technical knowledge. How can you lead if you don't understand fully the field. Consequently, having the chance, I took the next two years of my life learning sw development, graphic/UI, design, and a bit of web development. Financially and mentally it was a very costly decision that kept me on the verge of burning out and, yet, I don't understand if it was the right choice.

I would love to hear the opinion of the community.

I'm not an expert in CS (not even close), but to me it looks like there is very little crust on Apple technologies.

There is some, but not nearly as much as say what's in win32. This lack of 'crust' can be attributed to SJ's personality. He had no problems dropping something he didn't think worked. This led to headaches for 3rd parties, and is one of the primary reasons enterprise stayed away from Apple (along with no roadmaps).

How can you lead if you don't understand fully the field.

It's not so much that you need to understand every in and out of the field. What you need to understand is effort level required develop something[1], and when you're clearly getting BSed. How much technical knowledge you need to do those two things is the hard part to figure out.

[1] I once had a manager ask me why a change was going to take so long because she thought "it's just and if/then statement."

"It's not so much that you need to understand every in and out of the field. What you need to understand is effort level required develop something[1], and when you're clearly getting BSed."

Those are not trivial things to do. Is not so rare for me to underestimate the effort required for a change in own code (but this might be because I'm not such a great programmer).

> Yet how can you lead the developments of those technologies if you don't understand them. Why it didn't go the same way, of let say, Symbian.

I think you may be framing the issue in the wrong way. Here's a little anecdote from my own experience: When I first studied math, I could solve isolated problems but I still had no feeling for what I was doing. One day, I stumbled upon a more theoretical book: Rudin's Principles of mathematical analysis (or Baby Rudin). The rigor, the very thought process was completely foreign to me. Sometimes I spent an entire day on retracing a few lines of proof. On the side, I read a delightful little book by Polya on How to solve problems. While the former gave me stuff to chew on, the latter gave me words to understand what I was doing when I was chewing. After much huffing and puffing, one day I "got" it. I really did. And to paraphrase SJ here, "I did it in a big way."

If I had stopped right there, I might not know about measure theoretic probability, the theory of point processes, copulas, or any other more or less specialized subjects. But once I crossed that point I always felt confident I _could_ learn whatever subject I chose to and do it quickly if called for.

Even for completely foreign topics, I may not know the details yet, the definitions, the important theorems or the lesser ones that help in establishing them or that shorten their proofs. But I now know how to read mathematical books, the difference between an important and a not so important theorem, what to look for.

Without knowing SJ personally, and only half-way through his biography, I think the above is a valid analogy for the kind of understanding SJ must have had for technology. He somehow "got" it, and that allowed him to intuit special areas quickly, select among alternatives, and perhaps be a better editor of more narrowly focused, deeper minds than any single one of them could have been on its own.

I'm not saying he was singular in this, or that his "getting" it was _the_ reason for his later success. For that, you need more, starting with certain type of self-awareness, social aptitude, luck, etc. etc. But as for his technical compass, I'm pretty sure this is all he needed. If you have this type of confidence and understanding, you can always dig into something and specialize when the problem in front of you calls for it. Or you can learn on whom to rely, whom to poll, etc.

That's the difference between a Ballmer, Lazaridis, any of the other management types with business school backgrounds, say, on one side and Jobs, Page or Zuckerberg, say, on the other.

Steve may have just gotten lucky to find him, but Ali Ozer ended up shaping the NeXTStep libraries that became Cocoa (when naming infrastructures after hot drinks became the rage ;-), and has maintained his control of shaping ever since.

So Jobs got "lucky" (luck favors the prepared, of course) in his finding Ali to obsess about the NS and Cocoa libraries in all dimensions, with the same kind of taste-making abilities as Jobs had at the larger whole ecosystem level.

I'm sure part of it is that Steve Jobs actually understood programming (even if he wasn't a programmer himself) - coupled with his desire that things should be beautiful.

He said that it was a mistake only taking the GUI to Apple, and he should have taken the whole Smalltalk environment. This in turn lead directly to why Next (and hence Cocoa) uses Objective-C. The fact that he would argue with Eric Schmidt in a car park about the merits of why Obj-C is a better O-O language (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/eric-schmidt-on-steve-j...) says a lot.

I didn't know that. Thanks for sharing.

I think Job's approach to development goes something like this:

  1. Build a talented team.
  2. Keep it small.
  3. Give them time.
  4. Keep them focused on the end goal not the internals of the project.
  5. Cut all non essential features.

   6. Don't tolerate crap.
   7. Turn your product announcements into theatrical performances.
   8. Have as your main goal keeping the end users happy, not the middle men.

8: That's what killed Kodak. Decided their customers were the retailers, not the people who used the film. Wouldn't make the massive switch to digital because middlemen liked the foot traffic film created (and digital didn't) and threatened to drop carrying Kodak products altogether if digital was pushed. Funny, the middlemen had little trouble switching to digital when customers made the switch ... and the film market vanished.

Wow, I used to be an avid photographer at one point, but had no idea about any of this. Thanks.

"7. Turn your product announcements into theatrical performances."

Not so much... carry that too far and you get that recent Samsung CES thing with the kid 'Zoll' and the dancers promoting TV sets.

5 and 8 to me are the really important ones wrt granparent's question.

It is a lot easier to avoid and eliminate debt when you are ruthlessly focused on a few key features.

I think 5 and 8 are just the ones that aren't always done by other large players.

I've only seen Steve on TV, but here's my guess.

1) Ask smart questions to smart people. Steve seemed to be a master at this - he can sense when someone is glossing over something, and attacks it. I.E.: "What do you mean, 'for now'; will there be problems later on?". Most people don't want to hear the things you clearly omit. Steve went for the jugular.

2) Experience. Heard of the Next computer? Uneconomic - the whole automated assembly, and razor-sharp magnesium corners, and 16 different shades of black thrown out because they weren't quite right drove the costs up too much. Heard of WebObjects? Steve had his failures. He tended to salvage what he could, restart them, and finally get them working; but he still had failures. I bet he learnt a lot from them.

To be fair, the Cube was expensive, but the pizza box-shaped NeXTStations were competitively priced to similarly-powered high-end PCs and Macs of the early 90s.

You'll be surprised how little time people have for useless embellishment if you keep them busy with real work.

Which is another way of saying that if a team is small and optimally sized they can't go off and do random nonsensical reinvention of wheels.

Many times parsimony is elegance.

When I first looked into it, I was surprised at the extent to which Mac OS X was based on Unix. It seems like they reuse as much as they can, and innovate only where they need to.

I agree wholeheartedly. To compare, as Gladwell does, Microsoft's "copying" of Mac to make Windows to Apple's "copying" of Xerox PARC's half-assed UI to make Mac is completely missing the point.

Jobs produced "copies" of things that transcended the things he copied (he "copied" an MP3 player with (a) a simpler but better MP3 player, (b) cross-platform software with automated ripping and an online store, (c) seamless integration, (d) negotiated rights with all the major labels that boggled the minds of rivals (see Gates's reaction in the Isaacson book) and also allowed indie artists direct access to their fans). And, in my opinion, the iPod is the least of Jobs's major accomplishments.

I don't want to downplay the genius of the guy who developed the automated cotton mule. The early 19th century didn't afford opportunities to effect sweeping technological revolutions that our era does.

The idea that Jobs got the idea of the iPad from the Microsoft engineer who boasted about the tablet version of Windows is laughable. Isaacson's book (and other sources) document that Jobs was trying to source working touch screens before the Mac shipped, and carrying around designs for laptops in his pockets.

If Gladwell has a valid point to make in the entire article, it's that Gates's desire to fight malaria with his billions is commendable and visionary. I won't argue with that. Everything else is rubbish. (Someone, I think the Economist, suggested at some point that Gates was the greatest Robin Hood in history, which nicely implied that his billions were largely acquired by theft.)

> Jobs produced "copies" of things that transcended the things he copied

Er, that's precisely what Gladwell is arguing.

Gladwell basically calls Jobs a tweaker. He didn't tweak products, he reinvented them. In fact, Jobs didn't have the skills to be a tweaker (the guys Gladwell compares Jobs to were essentially hardcore engineers).

Here's a simple example (from Isaacson's book):

When Jobs was working on the Apple II he wanted to build the power supply into the box but didn't want a fan, so he hired a guy to design a new kind of power supply that would meet his requirements. This guy _invented the switching power supply_ to meet those requirements.

This kind of thing occurs over and over in Jobs's story. (E.g. the mouse at Xerox -- which you'll recall Jobs "stole" from Xerox, but in fact was invented by Douglas Englebart -- had three buttons, cost a fortune, broke down frequently, and didn't scroll diagonally. The mouse on my mother's 128k Mac eventually failed after five years when its plastic feet were down flat.)

Have you ever used one of the Xerox PARC machines? I have, and I would hardly call it a "half-assed UI". In many ways, it was better than the Mac OS until OS X. The main problem with the Xerox PARC machines is that they couldn't/didn't get the cost below $20k. IIRC, the Apple Lisa also suffered a similar fate, and the 128K Mac was little more than a doorstop. The Xerox GUI instead was saved by Moore's Law, when the hardware could be made cheap and fast enough to make consumer products.

"The main problem with the Xerox PARC machines is that they couldn't/didn't get the cost below $20k."

They probably didn't really care too much, since they sold high-end office equipment, not consumer products. Even if they got the price down, it would have been sold by Xerox copier salesmen to businesses.

I have actually used one of the Xerox PARC machines. Three button mouse, you needed to know which button did what or it was useless. No diagonal scrolling...

Also, the use of the word "tweaker" is a stupid rhetorical trick...

Can anyone name a single product that Jobs released that had not already been proven in the marketplace by another company, in substantially the same form? I can only think of one: the Newton. And Jobs never made that mistake again.

'Tweaker' sounds perjorative, but in fact that was exactly Jobs' genius: recognizing the design details that others missed, the tweaks that would turn a good product into a great one.

The iPhone wasn't merely a "tweak" on existing cell phones, or even the Palm Pilot.

What's your standard? Name a few products. The Walkman? If the Walkman qualifies as an innovation, then surely the iPhone does.

Calling the Macintosh a tweak on the Xerox Alto I think is also hardly fair. If that is true, then all products ever released have been tweaks, which makes the distinction meaningless.

The iPhone wasn't merely a "tweak" on existing cell phones, or even the Palm Pilot.

Are you kidding? It was clearly a tweak of the Palm Pilot and the Treo phone. Same form factor, same 'one app open at a time' philosophy, same launch screen. The key tweak was eliminating the stylus.

Calling the Macintosh a tweak on the Xerox Alto I think is also hardly fair.

Why? It was certainly similar enough to litigate the issue. I'd agree though that the Mac was probably the riskiest product Jobs produced, in terms of predecessors in the market.

If that is true, then all products ever released have been tweaks...

Every once in awhile there is a real innovation. The aforementioned Newton, say, or the Wii-mote. The Walkman seems more like a tweak, there were already portable tape recorders in wide use.

I mean I suppose it depends on your definition of "substantially the same form" and "proven."

I'd argue that the Zen Jukebox did not prove that HDD MP3 players could be successful, and that Treos and other smartphones, though proven successful, were not substantially in the same form as an iPhone, and that previous tablets were proven failures and also not substantially in the same form as iPad's.

I think the iPad is really the best example of Jobs' talent being used in a capacity that wasn't just tweaking. Stylus input and finger input are just completely different ways to approach the user interface. An iPad isn't a tweak of previous failed Windows tablets, it's throwing out the basic premise of the machine ("a tablet is just like your computer but in the palm of your hand") and starting from scratch ("what is the purpose of a tablet?").

Stylus input and finger input are just completely different ways to approach the user interface.

I agree that getting finger input right was the critical factor, but I don't think it was at all obvious that it would produce a completely different user experience. Looking forward from five years ago, I don't think you could call it anything but a tweak---it's only with the benefit of hindsight (unless you share Jobs' unique talent) that you can see that a small design change (use your finger instead of a stylus!) could make such a big difference.

I disagree that it's a small design change. The decision to use finger input as opposed to stylus input has a cascading effect on the whole UI. Fingers are too fat to click on lots of little buttons, so you have to use direct manipulation everywhere you can.

Take something simple like zooming or scrolling a page. In Windows Mobile circa 2006, the basic paradigm was the same one you'd use on the Xerox Alto in 1973: click on scroll up/down buttons to scroll, click on a menu and then on zoom in/out to zoom. The stylus was just a less capable mouse on a smaller screen. On iOS circa 2007, you pinch to zoom the page and swipe to scroll it. There is no analogue to this in the previous Windows/Menus/Icons/Pointers paradigm.

I think the iOS UI is really the perfect example of something that wasn't just tweaking. Windows Mobile was just a tweak of the mouse-based Windows UI for stylus input. iOS threw away the Mac UI, predicated on the mouse, and started from scratch. "What does a UI look like when you start from the assumption that you're manipulating it with your fingers?"

This is a fair point, but that's the engineer's point of view. Looking at it from a product manager's perspective, why did so many decline to make the investment necessary to make touch work for the consumer? I would argue that they simply didn't perceive the enormous difference it would make (ie, that the risk was worth the reward). Faced with the engineering challenges you describe, they decided that there was just not enough difference between using a stylus and using touch to justify the cost. A small product change can still be very expensive to make.

I agree that's a proper description of why Microsoft, etc, didn't do touch first, but what exactly is that relevant to?

Your contention earlier was that stylus -> touch was a "tweak." My point is that it's not just a tweak, it's throwing out the existing model and starting from scratch. You implicitly acknowledge that by referencing the investment to make the change, an investment that is incurred by having to throw out the existing design and start over.

Touch was not a tweak. It was throwing out the steering wheel and asking "so now how do you drive the car?"

It was throwing out the steering wheel and asking "so now how do you drive the car?"

Exactly my point. Let's say it drives by telepathy. The car wouldn't change much: it would still have a driver and be driven on the road. It would still have an engine, passenger seating, storage space and cupholders. It would still at a glance look like any other car. But that apparently small change would result in a profound change in the user experience (and yes, profound engineering challenges for the maker). It's a better car. But it's not an entirely new class of transportation, just a tweak to an existing one, like the automatic transmission and hybrid engines.

Tablet--not at all proven in the marketplace, and largely considered a failed product category before the iPad.

A failed consumer product category, yes. But tablets have been in routine use in business for many years, and have been a profitable niche product. Jobs correctly surmised that the tweaks he'd made to the PDA to make the iPhone a big success could translate in a larger form factor to make a successful consumer tablet. But tablets were already a familiar product to millions of people when the iPad hit the market.

Not to be pedantic, but the iPad preceded the iPhone as a concept. Jobs requested a prototype multi-touch display that you could type on, saw inertial scrolling, and decided that the phone should come first. There's very little about the tablet product category that he "tweaked." He threw out the stylus and built a touch OS from scratch.

Good point. I'd agree that the real innovation in both the iPhone and iPad was touch. It seems obvious now that touch is a completely different experience from the stylus, but it wasn't obvious enough that anybody else made the big investment to make it work, before Jobs.

It is worth recognising though that touch did exist before iOS, something a lot of people don't realise. It wasn't in consumer products so much, but it had been out there for quite some time.

True. I was infatuated with the hyper expensive lemur for a while. Then came the iPhone/iPad. Jazzmutant must have had some terse meetings around that time.


Edit : just browsed to their front page.. "ceasing commercial activities".. Oh dear..

The Newton happened after Jobs left Apple.

I thought I remembered a story about Jobs not allowing the Newton to be shipped until it actually fit in his coat pocket? Was that someone else?

Jobs left Apple in 1985, the Newton started development in 1987. John Scully was the executive excited about the Newton. Even though it was profitable, Jobs killed it on his return.

I haven't heard a story like that but if I were to guess it would be Jeff Hawkins from Palm. Because while the Newton while cool, it never reached pocket size.

There is something slightly ironic about Gladwell using quotes from other people's work to describe Jobs as a 'tweaker'.

I have to give Bill Gates the credit for nailing the real genius of Steven Jobs...


Lise Buyer (to Bill Gates and Steven Jobs): "Question, I guess it’s historical curiosity. You approached the same opportunity so very differently. What did you learn about running your own business that you wished you had thought of sooner or thought of first by watching the other guy?"


Bill Gates: "Well, I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste. [laughter] He has natural–it’s not a joke at all. I think in terms of intuitive taste, both for people and products. You know, we sat in Mac product reviews where there were questions about software choices, how things would be done that I viewed as an engineering question; that’s just how my mind works. And I’d see Steve make the decision based on a sense of people and product that is even hard for me to explain. The way he does things is just different, I think it’s magical. And in that case, wow."


-- http://allthingsd.com/20070531/d5-gates-jobs-transcript/

I keep thinking of this quote by George Bernard Shaw:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

Steve Jobs was the consummate unreasonable man.

I'm ready for the Jobs dissertations to be finished. I've made up my mind -- he was professionally successful but a personal failure.

It's my interpretation, so I'm not trying to change anyone else's opinion. But to me, if you have to scream at subordinates and mock colleagues and generally treat everyone else as inferior, you have failed -- in spite of one's accomplishments.

Some call that perfection or simply dealing with the attributes of genius. I call it a cop-out to let petulence and immaturity be an acceptable excuse for success.

An open request of all existing geniuses: try impressing us with accomplishments that don't require you to stomp on the dignity of others.

It reminds me of my opinion on folks like Russell Crowe. Incredibly talented at what they do, but destroy people to further their product. Crowe uses and abuses people. He also has a reality distortion field, but woe betide you if you're in his way. Friends of mine say "but it's okay because he's such an artist!" to which I say bullshit, you can provide his product without being a mongrel. And people do.

The more I read, the more I think that any attempt to seperate Jobs' "shortcomings" from his "genius" are wrong from the start. I look at Gladwell's anecdotes and I see that Jobs' greatest talent was making relatively modest (often borrowed) visions into well-executed reality via his unique combination of aesthetic sensitivity and barely controlled personality power (which, as Isaacson gets at, also seems a function of his deep sensitivity).

Gladwell's theory falls apart if you really consider the competitors. If you look at the history of Microsoft's tablets and the Xerox Star, their biggest barrier wasn't a lack of "tweaking", it was the ability to get the products out of labs without getting killed or tweaked into mediocrity by a hundred conniving VPs.

Here I think we need to acknowledge that Jobs' personality was part of his genius. Perhaps typical 20th century corporate culture/governance has been so inherently larded with politics, so easily driven into misaligned incentives, that it's been almost inimical to creating excellent products of high technical sophistication (especially involving both hardware and software). Perhaps recognizing and rapidly correcting these inherent sicknesses (from removing "B players" to forcing dramatic but necessary strategy shifts)and actually shipping great products requires a certain craziness, a rudeness.

Insightful and highly accurate characterization of Issacson's Biography. I often wondered whether people like Jobs have any ability to see themselves (and others) objectively, and whether that lack of ability, that narcissism, is essential to their ability to ensure their vision comes out with the purity that we saw in the iPhone, iPad, Macbook Air, etc...

I also appreciate this characterization's of Jobs' rant on Gates' supposed lack of imagination:

"Philanthropy on the scale that Gates practices it represents imagination at its grandest. In contrast, Jobs’s vision, brilliant and perfect as it was, was narrow. He was a tweaker to the last, endlessly refining the same territory he had claimed as a young man."

With due credit to Gates' intent behind the philanthropy he's undertaken, the relationship between good intent and good outcomes is by no means straightforward.

In the book "the logic of failure" by Dietrich Dorner, he presents simulation experiments with some disturbing results. In his simulations, people were tasked to better the lives of nomads with high mortality rates and tsetse fly infested cattle. This who first saw their mission as a humanitarian one - i.e. about fixing the health problems of nomads and their cattle - end up causing famines instead. Those who succeed manage to achieve a slow improvement in standard metrics.

I recommend that book to anyone who thinks solving the problems of a setup with many interdependent parts is a well understood thing or automatically apply thumb rules like "one problem at a time".

>I often wondered whether people like Jobs have any ability to see themselves (and others) objectively, and whether that lack of ability [...]

Couldn't it be the other way around? That he saw, as through looking at the Earth from space, his devices being shipped all the way around the world, knowing that any small imperfection or minor annoyance would be replicated millions of times over. In this perspective, a little sweat and tears and even going through dozens of iterations on the part of the inventor seems small compared to millions of man-hours of frustration around the globe.

  > of Jobs' rant on Gates' supposed lack of imagination
Where can I read this rant? Or do you have in mind Jobs' rant about __Microsoft__ having no taste which is completely different thing.

No, he means _Gates_

google: Jobs on Gate no imagination

"Bill basically has no imagination and never find anything, that’s why I think he’s more comfortable this time on philanthropy rather than technological. He’s just shamelessly take others’ ideas,"

There's also another much older quote, which I think is an awesome one for Bill Gates:

"You're ripping us off!", Steve shouted, raising his voice even higher. "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us!"

But Bill Gates just stood there coolly, looking Steve directly in the eye, before starting to speak in his squeaky voice.

"Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

> "I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

The main problem with that analogy is that Jobs bought that TV set from Xerox. Xerox freely let Apple see what they were working on with the understanding that Apple would use some of these ideas. In exchange for this, Xerox got to profit from the resulting increase in the stock price - they got a bunch of early Apple stock. The bulk of this transaction was aboveboard and mutually beneficial.

Microsoft didn't pay for Apple's info; they got access to it under a pretext and did not in return put Apple in a position to profit from what was used.

Actually this isn't quite true either. In fact Xerox would later sue Apple (which was dismissed for legal reasons -- largely because they waited too long to sue):


Here's what Andy Hertzfeld says about it: Well, we had no formal relationship with PARC while we were developing the Mac. We got a single demo before the Mac project got off the ground, when the LISA project, that sort of cousin or bigger brother of the Mac, was in development. And so from that one demo we were already pointed in that direction but I would say that Xerox PARC demo galvanized and reinforced our strong opinion that the graphic user-interface was the way to go. And then the influence of PARC was strong in the project, but not through a formal relationship with PARC; more through PARC people getting wind of what we were doing and coming to work at Apple.


And note that Gates also visited Xerox PARC in the same time frame. And speaking of people leaving PARC to work at Apple -- Simonyi applied to Microsoft in 1981. Clearly he was fairly familiar with the work at PARC.

All this is to say that claiming that Apple had exlusive rights to the Xerox technology and everything Microsoft learned about it came from Apple is an absurd claim. Bill's quote is pretty accurate.

The white man bought all the land from the natives too, when they first arrived in North America. For peanuts. The natives had no concept of what they were doing because they didn't understand the importance of what they were giving away (and economic transactions of the sort were a newfangled thing for them). High school history classes. As my teacher said, "And you might think that these guys got ripped off. Well, they did."

A legal transaction can still be considered stealing, and I think it's very easy to say that Xerox didn't realize what they were giving away. Now the thing is, when transacting with an entity like Xerox, it probably can't be considered criminal. :)

Xerox wasn't using any of that stuff to its potential; the million bucks they made off it by way of their Apple investment was the best they were going to get. And unlike the Indians they didn't even have to get "kicked off the land" to get it! When Xerox shared their ideas, they still had those ideas and could continue to use them much as before.

No, if you want to redeem the claim that Apple "stole" from Xerox you can't really do it based on the ideas that came out of those meetings.

The one thing Apple did that was vaguely disreputable is: they then hired away many of the key Xerox people. You can't say they "stole" the ideas but they did "steal" the employees. Not in the sense that it was illegal - employees have free will and freedom of contract and there was no non-compete clause - but that this went beyond what Xerox reasonably expected to come out of the transaction, so you can see how Xerox might have been miffed.

No, the analogy is perfect for what happened, and a killer comeback on Gate's part. I don't think Steve appreciated competition and tried to kill it with a shotgun instead of a better product, this is very evident with the attack on Android, and with the absolutely absurd patents that have been filed by Apple.

Short term Steve Job's model of doing things has worked out really well, but if it was allowed to continue (and grow) at the rate it was, it would have created a stagnant world where having a screen on a phone would be patented by Apple.

Tim Cook is an excellent choice for the next CEO and he will probably do very nicely at Apple; his changes are very welcome in my mind.

> I don't think Steve appreciated competition and tried to kill it with a shotgun instead of a better product

In fairness, I think he did both.

Whether they (MS/Apple) paid for the idea is irrelevant when one is bashing the other for no imagination. In the Xerox scenario they both took what they saw from someone else and built on it. In that context Gates is right.

"In that context Gates is right"

I disagree because Jobs/Apple looked at the xerox stuff and improved on it, drop down menus, overlapping windows etc. Whereas Microsoft just copied what Apple had done, bringing no new ideas to the table.

How did they improve on it, those first Mac didn't have everything those Smalltalk 80 images had, and Smalltalk already had overlapping windows and drop down menus. If anything, those first macs were a poor copy, not a better one.

The Xerox star did not have overlapping windows at the time the mac group got to see it. I believe it had popup menus but no concept of a common menubar with pulldown menus the way mac had (and still has). Some of the features it lacked then were added later - overlapping windows was among them.

One account of the differences is here: http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?story=On_Xerox,_Apple_a...

According to Bruce Horn:

"There is a significant difference between using the Mac and Smalltalk. [Xerox PARC Alto Workstation] Smalltalk has no Finder, and no need for one, really. Drag-and- drop file manipulation came from the Mac group, along with many other unique concepts: resources and dual-fork files for storing layout and international information apart from code; definition procedures; drag-and-drop system extension and configuration; types and creators for files; direct manipulation editing of document, disk, and application names; redundant typed data for the clipboard; multiple views of the file system; desk accessories; and control panels, among others.

The [Apple] Lisa group invented some fundamental concepts as well: pull down menus, the imaging and windowing models based on QuickDraw, the clipboard, and cleanly internationalizable software. The Mac and Lisa designers had to invent their own architectures."

In some ways that's true, but the original Mac was far more user-friendly and, importantly, hugely cheaper in a way that seems very unlikely to have been doable with Smalltalk in the first half of the 1980s.

Oh, thanks. I fail, however, to see how Gates philanthropy relates to imagination. As for the second quote, it is nice but in reality things were much more complicated.

What Jobs probably meant (not that I agree with it necessarily): Philanthropy is using money to enable others to innovate, in contrast to being an innovator.

I think the article, although biased, maintains the basic assumptions really well. They are: Steve Jobs is a genius, at tweaking not inventing. Whether the reader agrees to this or not, is a different case. But this sections highlights the difference quite notably.

To think of it, the article talks about the scale of Philanthropy of Gates in fields like Malaria eradication. This is a grande project, in it's entirety. There are no existing systems that work and Gates imagination of a possible solution cannot be ignored as is done by Jobs. This does make Jobs narrow minded in the way that he is considering only Technicalities and Design as imaginative and completely denying the imagination that might go into believing in a better (and in this case malaria free) future.

I agree that he meant something along those lines. Not being a philanthroper, I probably shouldn't comment, but I think says a lot about the man (essentially the point that the OP made, that he was a narrow genius)

Now that I've had time to read the article, I see that both quotes are actually in there.


I'm annoyed that Gladwell classifies Jobs as a tweaker. He's not. He's a tastemaker. From TFA:

> When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

Can you imagine one of the British hacker/tweakers in the article (or a hacker/tweaker you know) EVER saying something like that? The respect I have for role comes from them having both the vision AND the skill to take something someone else invented and make it fly. Jobs sees a thing, decides "that sucks" and has the people he hired bring him iterations with varying degrees of feedback until he's happy. That stretches the definition of tweaking so far it basically makes the word meaningless, lacking both the engineering and the raw ideas. Jobs is probably the best tastemaker of all time, a great presenter, and a great CEO, but comparing him to the great hackers of the Industrial Revolution is offensive to me.


Sure. I believe engineers are one of the major forces that improve society. There is a tendency from the business side to assign credit for this work to the person who provided the money (and in this case guidance) for the project. This annoys me but to a lesser extend because the money/environment really is an important part of the process.

In this case, Gladwell is basically crediting Jobs as being part of an engineering tradition that I highly respect without (afaict) Jobs actually possessing the key qualities of that tradition. Doing so makes Jobs look better at the expense of diluting the term, which strikes me as disrespectful to the hackers' accomplishments.

Edit: This is a response to (paraphrased) "Why are you so emotional about this?"

Gladwell creates a dichotomy of the tweaker and inventor. I believe this dichotomy is false[1] and think he concludes Jobs a tweaker because all inventors are tweakers.

Gladwell's tweakers are "skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men [people?] who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work". Inventors, by contrast, are large-scale visionaries.

Who, among people who created things, exemplifies a large-scale visionary?

[1] A conclusion largely based on Weisberg's excellent "Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius" and Goldenberg's "Systematic Creativity in Business" as profiled here -- http://joshuaspodek.com/creativity

Who is this Gladwell guy and what did he invent or made that is worth noting?

Or did he simply take someone else's opinions using someone else's language and tweaked them a little bit to make them appear as his own?

Not sure if you're being serious or not...

But this is probably the worst Gladwell article I've ever read. I just finished the Jobs biography, and Gladwell is just repeating parts of it. I know Gladwell has a set number of words he has to deliver to the New Yorker each year, but I'm actually kind of surprised the New Yorker accepted this article. It's practically just plagiarism.

I just finished reading the biography as well, and Gladwell's article gave me the same impression it gave you. Repeat a bunch of things from Isaacson, describe a false dichotomy between creators (the pious ones) and tweakers (the fallen ones), then position Jobs as a "false prophet" on the basis of the above false dichotomy. Next, set up yourself (Malcolm Gladwell) as being the only one enlightened enough to tell true prophets from false ones (a claim which would neatly place Gladwell's image next to the former ones). Oh and pick an opportune moment to say all this to generate enough publicity around yourself. Thinking goes: people have been talking too much about Jobs,; time for them to talk a bit more about Gladwell.

Isaacson is, in places, brutal on Jobs, but he doesn't resort to cheap tricks like this.

Wait, Really?

Gladwell is kinda famous, written a couple of best sellers and stuff.

That said opinions on him vary, his primary MO is to tell the audience something that contradicts common knowledge and provide enough facts to back it up, thereby making his audience feel smarter, which people love.

On the other hand it's often just enough facts, and it's often technically true but a very shallow truth.

Yeah, yeah, sure...

Since a writing class I took was probably one of my favorite courses in college, I used to hold writers in high regard as creative people.

Not anymore. For example, what Gladwell just wrote simply illustrates that he has no knowledge whatsoever of how creative process works. For one, all creativity is tweaking. Einstein obtained his relativity theory by basically iteratively tweaking known theories and some others until they looked good enough and fit the observed facts. Not trying to diminish what Einstein did in any way -- very few people if any at the time would have been able to tweak just the right equations. In addition, that iterative tweaking Einstein did required a helluva lot of thinking, something Gladwell surely didn't bother with.

Getting back to Gladwell -- I hope it is clear now that what one ends up with is a world-famous writer who doesn't understand creativity yet manages to write with an "intellectual" voice and publish in The New Yorker.

This is very troubling.

Barely any visual artist or sculptor or architect or even a musician one could name would fall into the category of those who don't understand how creative process works. Yet writers routinely do fall into that category. Not all writers, I'm sure -- I bet Shakespeare knew a few things about creative process that he could teach even Jobs. Yet a disturbingly large proportion of writers -- like 80% of them have no idea what they are talking about when they are talking about creativity.

Only goes to show that one doesn't necessarily need to be creative to speak or write well -- it is enough to serve as a relatively dumb medium through which a fixed language (invented by someone else) passes through.

Can you expand on this creative process? Interested in learning more.

It's an iterative process of tweaking, then stepping back to take a wider view, then tweaking some more, then stepping back again to evaluate, etc... until either (1) you're intuitively happy with the result or (2) your result conforms to some objective standard, or (3) both. It requires introspection and knowing how to "hack" your intuition. Different people hack their intuition in different ways, here is one way to do it, one that doesn't require drugs and going on a trip to India to meet holy men: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3175272

Some people have this naive romantic notion that you basically go through some period of "suffering" as an artist and then suddenly you have some "grand vision" unfolding in front of you that's hidden to everybody else. What they miss is all the boring, often tweaking-like work that you have to perform before you are faced with that vision. Suffering without doing work doesn't lead to anything.

Sorry that Gladwell has sullied your opinion of writers... but all the good writers (emphasis on "good") I've known and currently know are insanely good at the creative process and lead the way in creative development.

It's the copywriter who produces the creative concepts in an advertising agency. Those commercials you see and those taglines/slogans you remember? Those were the brainchild of a copywriter sitting at a desk somewhere, mulling over ideas, soaking up culture and transforming it into a memorable view of that culture. The copywriter imagines. Then documents. Then edits. Then reimagines. Then lets a bunch of others give their opinions. Then edits some more.

Not sure what writers you've come across, but you might want to ease up on making sweeping statements about all - or even 80% of writers. Oh, and most working writers -- the ones who aren't starving -- are hard workers who don't believe in climbing the mystic mountain to seek out the Muse, as you describe.

I apologize; I may have used a wrong term. I should have said, "intellectuals who write opinions for dubious reasons," not creative writers.

You should read a bit more of Gladwell's works as well as his background before labeling him as a "relatively dumb medium".

Well if the article in question exemplifies Gladwell's thinking, then I will save reading more of him for a rainy day, and will instead read about those people who do things instead of those who talk about those who do. As someone said, one's time on Earth is limited.

I'm very confused. Did you think this article was about "people who do things" or about "people who talk about those who do"?

There is considerable irony in your reply.

I like the tweaker v innovator perspective. I agree that Jobs, and Apple in general perfect rather than innovate. E.g. they didn't invent mp3 players, they just made a really good one. They didn't invent phones with browsing capabilities, they just made them really easy to use and nifty.

Innovation is not the same as invention. It's an extremely common misconception, but they are different things. Tweaking is far more analogous to innovating than innovating is to inventing. From the Oxford English Dictionary definition of innovate;

To bring in (something new) the first time; to introduce as new; to bring in or introduce novelties; to make changes in something established; to introduce innovations. Sometimes const. on or upon (also with indirect passive).

Whereas invent;

To come upon, find; to find out, discover; to find out or produce by mental activity; to devise, contrive; to plan, plot; to compose as a work of imagination or literary art; to treat in the way of literary or artistic composition; to devise something false or fictitious; to fabricate, feign, ‘make up’; to originate, introduce, or bring into use formally or by authority; to found, establish, institute, appoint.

and tweak;

An act of tweaking; a sharp wringing pull; a twitch, a pluck; a small modification or adjustment made to improve the efficiency of a mechanism. colloq.

"I agree that Jobs, and Apple in general perfect rather than innovate. E.g. they didn't invent mp3 players, they just made a really good one. They didn't invent phones with browsing capabilities, they just made them really easy to use and nifty."

<cynicism on>

I agree that no company ever had innovated: when someone created mp3 players there were already Walkmans, so mp3 are Walkmans without tape, and digital instead of analog, before Walkmans there were other portable tape recorders and players.

Before Nokia created cell phones there were already analog phones( I have one that weights 2Kgs or 4 pounds), and before that there were "portable" (backpack) radios.

<cynicism off>

Some people had pushed the envelope of what is possible, and some people instead of recognizing that prefer to diminish what they had done so they could feel better about their small accomplishments on life.

My point wasn't to use the word "perfect" to "diminish what [Jobs] had done". At the end of the day there's a reason I prefer Apple to Microsoft and it has nothing to do with who innovated and everything to do with who perfected. I don't like Apple products because they do something new -- if they do, awesome, I just don't care. I like Apple products because they work well.

I just don't see how that was diminishing what Jobs did?

I moderately disagree with Gladwell's conclusions, and fear he is trying to 'tweak' his own theories about 'tweakers' to fit Jobs.

Jobs had faults and long-term insights. He liked what was beautiful. And he was really good at tweaking (and insisted on it until a kind of perfection).

But the other thing he had was imagination, insight into what was important in the long run, and really good engineers who were attracted by his insistence on excellence. It's not just about insistence on tweaking.

It's about NeXT and Pixar and excellence. Insistence on tweaking a design perfectly is correlated with excellence in imagination. They are not so different. You don't insist on tweaking something past all points of normal behavior -- unless you have that vision.

Was Pixar really a "tweak"?

Remember that Jobs bought Pixar because he thought the hardware that Pixar designed and sold had potential.

It wasn't until Lasseter's work in doing shorts (to show off the software) and commercials (to pay the bills) started taking off that the possibility of a feature movie came about. That's more like a "pivot".

"Tweakers" (God what a horrible name, and I thought "hacker" was kind of bad for makers.) might have contributed to the industrial revolution in England.

Then again, the relative prices of labor vs energy at the time probably played a greater role: http://www.voxeu.org/index.php?q=node/3570

It made sense to invest in labor saving machinery because you actually saved money. In other places, labor was cheaper and energy more expensive, so it just wasn't economical to spend on industrial machinery.

>When Vincent shouted, “You’ve got to tell me what you want,” Jobs shot back, “You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.”

I too am like this. I know what I want when I see it. I also know good stuff. I am sure most people are the same way too.

The main difference between us and Jobs is; we do not have the patience to wait until it it is right. The heart to tell 64 (!!!) nurses that they do not fit. The authority to tell geniuses their work suck and they should come back with more designs.

He was willing to be rude, difficult and a bully to get it right.

Are you?

Of all of the things to celebrate in Steve Jobs I'm not sure this is the best one. If anything its the easiest to mis-construe. Can you imagine how many people exist that are like Steve Jobs except without being able to "know good stuff"? And how hellish those people are? shudders

Acting like this is super risky, if you don't get it right then everyone hates you and you don't have results.

Maybe my comment hinted I appove of diminishing people. I do not.

However, I wish I had the patience, clout, timing and resources to say no, until I am satsfied with the outcome (Hopfully before the use expires).

I would love to do so being as humane as possible

I hope entrepreneurs don't start confusing accountability with narcissism because of Steve Jobs. You don't have to be a rude, difficult, bully to get things right. Not only would Steve tell people that their work sucked, but when they finally produced something he approved of, he would often act as if it was his idea. His romanticized view of the world was also impractical, from the meaningless paint job of the NeXT factory to his refusal to have his body "invaded" by surgery. What point does it serve to go through 64 nurses or worry about the design of your oxygen mask? It's absurd and accomplishes nothing.


Jobs, we learn, was a bully. "He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe". Jobs gets his girlfriend pregnant, and then denies that the child is his. He parks in handicapped spaces. He screams at subordinates. He cries like a small child when he does not get his way. He sits in a restaurant and sends his food back three times. He arrives at his hotel suite in New York for press interviews and decides, at 10 pm ... the flowers are all wrong: he wanted calla lilies. When his public-relations assistant returns, at midnight, with the right flowers, he tells her that her suit is "disgusting". Machines and robots were painted and repainted as he compulsively revised his color scheme, Isaacson writes, of the factory Jobs built, after founding NeXT, in the late nineteen-eighties. He insisted that the machinery on the 165-foot assembly line be configured to move the circuit boards from right to left as they got built, so that the process would look better to visitors who watched from the viewing gallery. ...when Jobs returns, in the late nineteen-nineties, and our natural expectation is that Jobs will emerge wiser and gentler from his tumultuous journey. He never does. In the hospital at the end of his life, he runs through sixty-seven nurses before he finds three he likes...

...Even within Apple, Jobs was known for taking credit for other's ideas. Jonathan Ive, the designer behind the iMac, the iPod, and the iPhone, tells Isaacson, "He will go through a process of looking at my ideas and say, 'That's no good. That's not very good. I like that one.' And later I will be sitting in the audience and he will be talking about it as if it was his idea."


Was Jobs really such an asshole? If so, I think he was really lucky to have Steve Woz as his co-founder. I know a lot about Woz and hardly anything about Jobs, and I do know that Woz in addition to being a first rate engineer is also a very good guy. Maybe if Woz was even half the asshole that Jobs seems to be, he might have kicked him out before Apple went public and Jobs would have been just another tantrum throwing hippie hanging around some starbucks in Berkeley or wherever angry hippies like to hang around.

Almost done with the book. Having read it, this strikes me as a 7th grade book report. How does the same mag print Atul Gawande and this? And why does that irritate me?

Steve Jobs was a great director; perhaps the greatest of our generation.

That's the simplest I can say it. It wasn't about his singular abilities or his design sense. He was the right director who had the decline and ownership to do the great things he did.

I only read this piece because it was a Gladwell, but frankly i'm getting tired of every other person and their mom trying to define Steve Jobs.

I found a simple method that works really well: ask the student to invent their own language syntax on paper. We start with a simple language that can draw on screen, and proceed from there. I'm noticing that Students naturally discover many of the issues and tricks that they would otherwise have to "study" (such as flow of execution, nesting, variables)

I occasionally teach at schools in NY, and this semester my students "invented" the smalltalk syntax. It was heartwarming to witness.

Wrong thread?

Oh I'm sorry! It was intended for this thread - http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3204525

Jobs’s sensibility was more editorial than inventive. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he said.

This caption strikes me because my friend/professor in architecture just read Steve Jobs and said "Steve Jobs was an architect more than anything". We often collapse these things onto a domain more familiar to us, and the model of editor as Master Tweaker (and architect as Master Builder) seems to fit Gladwell's world of thinking.

Or a director, ala Kubrick. The director doesn't hand-design everything in the film, but he guides the designers and selects what works.

This reminds me a lot of my business partner, who will not rest until our projects are perfect. She's driven me nuts the entire time I've worked with her, but this has brought our output to a much higher level than I would have achieved without such an influence.

You have to love and hate someone who has such obsessive attention to detail. The key to making this mindset positive is knowing when it matters and when it doesn't.

It always struck me that Jobs would have made a really, really good A&R executive and label president.

Was it, that he made things closed because he didn't want the user to screw them up or was it because he thought they were already perfect and couldn't be made better?

I would like to believe the former.

There are no words that can sum up Steve Jobs genius and his contributions to modern society.

On the other hand, I can't help but notice how much press/literature there has been on his genius and I think it's starting to be excessive. Maybe it's just me, but I'm not a fan of literature that praises success and goes in-depth into the lives/processes of talented people(that's why I'm not a fan of Gladwell's Outliers book). Where can you draw the line between admiring someone's achievements and idolising their every trait?

Hmm. Did we read the same article? The Jobs presented here is a narcissistic, tantrum-throwing, deluded hypocrite -- a man whose many personal flaws served as (sometimes very significant) advantages in his environment. Even the question of whether these (borderline disgusting) flaws are vindicated by his ability to cause to develop products is left open.

I say this as a fan of Steve Jobs.

Well...you could say the same for biographies of John Lennon that highlighted the personality flaws that accompanied his talent. Yes, the question of whether there is a connection or not is left open, but it's still glorifying his negative attributes because it's about him. In my opinion, whatever is written about Jobs at this point, good or bad, will be associated with his talent.

"his contributions to modern society" I'm reading this a lot, but I have a hard time figuring what Jobs contributed to society. There are a lot of cars and there are 'perfected' cars like Ferrari. But does that mean the creators of Ferrari contributed to society?

> But does that mean the creators of Ferrari contributed to society?


The amount of research thrown into the likes of a Ferrari end up trickling all the way down to your regular car. From tyre compounds to suspension design to chassis structure to aerodynamics to engine optimization, your daily car would be nowhere as safe, economical, durable and so on without cutting edge technology designed for those ultra high-end cars. I had a nasty car crash that would simply have reduced me to bits ten years ago, but survived with only a few bruises and a bunch of displaced vertebrae. I could have escaped the crash altogether had the car been a couple of years less, and had been equipped with ESP. It would have been impossible to fit such amount of technology in such a cheap and lightweight package without bringing cutting-edge technology and perfect realization to the table at some point, but that comes with an awfully high price tag which can only be afforded by consumer luxury segment and professional racing. R&D in automotive consumes absolutely unfathomable and ridiculous amounts of money.

So yes, a F458, a Corvette ZR1, a Honda NSX-R, a Zonda Cinque, a Bugatti Veyron, an Aston-Martin One-77, a Porsche GT3 RS, a Nissan GT-R, a Tesla Roadster are vehicles of perfection that bring something to the table for society as a whole.

Imagine if every car manufacturer copied the design of the "perfected" Ferrari until almost every car sold was inspired by that Ferrari.

Then I would say that the designer of that car had contributed to society.

People forget what phones looked like in 2006. My parents now both have smart phones that look a lot like iPhones (but aren't) that they spend hours using a day. Like him or not, you can't argue Steve Jobs didn't have a huge impact on modern society.

Steve Jobs wasn't the designer of the iPhone. Other people made it while he cracked the whip. For some reason, a lot of the press is giving him credit for everything at Apple in spite of his infamous reputation for taking credit for other people's work.

Jef Raskin said these things in regards to the Macintosh project:

"What I proposed was a computer that would be easy to use, mix text and graphics, and sell for about $1,000. Steve Jobs said that it was a crazy idea, that it would never sell, and we didn't want anything like it. He tried to shoot the project down."

"After he took over, Jobs came up with the story about the Mac project being a 'pirate operation.' We weren't trying to keep the project away from Apple, as he later said; we had very good ties with the rest of Apple. We were trying to keep the project away from Jobs' meddling. For the first two years, Jobs wanted to kill the project because he didn't understand what it was really all about."

"I was very much amused by the recent Newsweek article where he [Jobs] said, 'I have a few good designs in me still.' He never had any designs. He has not designed a single product. Woz designed the Apple II. Ken Rothmuller and others designed Lisa. My team and I designed the Macintosh. Wendell Sanders designed the Apple III. What did Jobs design? Nothing."

Chapter 10 of Issacson's book spends quite a bit of time talking about Raskin vs Jobs on the Macintosh. Raskin is sourced several times for that chapter. The Macintosh would have been a very, very different product if Jobs had not taken over, and demanded a very different system than the one Raskin had envisioned.

The Issacson Analysis (backed up by Atkinson) was that Raskin had envisioned an underpowered, less expensive system that would not have had many of the features that made the original Macintosh "Insanely Great."

I like Gladwell's analysis - Jobs was a great _editor_ He didn't necessarily create very much, but he was driven to relentlessly critique until something great emerged.

It's amazing how valuable a function that can be, particularly in the presences of great engineers who can rise to the challenge.

The reason people praise Steve Jobs is not because he designed anything (though he may have had a few design suggestions) - but because his singular drive to release great products resulted in so many being created (and then, quite logically, being copied by everyone else)

The Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad all came about because of Steve Jobs, and have changed the technology that we use every day. Love him, or Hate him, you can't take that away from him.

>The Issacson Analysis (backed up by Atkinson) was that Raskin had envisioned an underpowered, less expensive system that would not have had many of the features that made the original Macintosh "Insanely Great."

Or may be if Raskin was able to had it his way, we would Apple would have brought a PC to nearly every home and has as much impact to the society as MS had. We can only guess (and not even guesstimate) what would have happened if Jobs weren't there in this particular project.

> It's amazing how valuable a function that can be, particularly in the presences of great engineers who can rise to the challenge - Yes exactly. One of the major issues is that the Engineers are been given very less credit. Jobs was the editor, the face of APPL and not the creator. The current trend is to attribute all the success of Apple to just Jobs and no one else. I am not aware if they were actually great designers, developers and engineers under him or was it him alone who single handedly guided dumb sheep into greatness. Most of the Job praises after his death tend to point towards the latter, which is unfair if not wrong.

> Or may be if Raskin was able to had it his way, we would Apple would have brought a PC to nearly every home and has as much impact to the society as MS had.

If I'm not wrong, Raskin's I'd say "anti-vision" consisted of no GUI, no mouse, basically a kind of machine that even predated PC-s (capable of even less, but therefore being simpler to use). Jobs wanted more than anywhere existed and still having it simple to use.

I think it's easy to compare.

Or may be if Raskin was able to had it his way, we would Apple would have brought a PC to nearly every home and has as much impact to the society as MS had.

Very true. Though the [lack of] success and interest in the Canon Cat, which was much closer to Raskin's vision than the shipping Macintosh ended up being, seems to belie this.


I guess I'm curious to know why so many people kept working for Jobs and Apple given that behavior? Did his "bluntness" command the respect that fueled other peoples' achievements?

There are a bunch of reasons; one of the primary ones is that it's awesome to work for a winner, and it's awesome to work on stuff that is part of the common culture (telling your mom that you can't talk about work but that she should check out the front page of the [i]Times[/i] next week is quite a rush). The downside is that you get a lot of the shouting and stomping around behavior copied from Jobs that trickles down -- after all, you get ahead by aping the Big Boss, right? Here's hoping that with Cook in charge the culture starts to mellow out a little.

I'm reading this a lot, but I have a hard time figuring what Jobs contributed to society.

Everyone who uses a personal computer, smartphone, or tablet of any description, or has watched a 3D computer-animated film, has been affected, for the better, by his life's work. So have the millions around the world who make a living, directly or indirectly, from the businesses he built.

I'm pretty sure there are many designers and engineers within Apple that we should be more thankful to and had more direct involvement with the creation of the products.

By that analogy you should be thankful to everyone everyday since everyone farm the fields, build the roads, build the trucks, drive the trucks, clean the roads, distribute the food, build the warehouses, run the logistics software, etc that put food on your table everyday.

Also, those engineers and designers came from other fields because there wasn't a real PC industry until Steve and Bill came along. Even those engineers that worked with him commended him for being able to see the bigger picture.

I guess Steve Jobs' real genius is that people here are still talking about him so long after he's dead.

A bunch of self proscribed hackers find him more interesting than either John McCarthy or Dennis Ritchie. When in fact he was just more successful monetarily. And better at getting you lot to talk about him.

Apples and oranges. There is something refreshing about someone who is willing to throw away a fundamental precept of tablet PCs (they have a stylus) because it sucks. I think every engineering team needs someone with some level of "wait why are we doing things this way?" (see P.G.'s essay on onions).

In a way Ritchie was the exact opposite. A lot of the answers to questions of the form "why does C do things this way?" are "because BCPL did them that way." Which is a perfectly good attitude for an engineer as well ("don't fix what isn't broken") but also a more typical one.

Why is it dated November 14, 2011?

The print edition will probably be in mailboxes Tuesday or Wednesday depending on where you live, and is probably already on news stands. But it's common practice with print magazines.

I feel like this question is asked every time something from the New Yorker is posted to HN, and I feel old every time, even though I'm in my twenties.

Print edition date.

Dated November 14..are we seeing the future?

I never met Jobs and I know nothing about him personally. But if the stuff in this article is true, he was an obnoxious prick, genius or not.

I would love to work for such an obnoxious prick. I am tired of all of the incompetents in the corporate world who just try to get along with each other while accomplishing little or the startups producing yet another "social" site.

You might want to look into how it was like to work for neXt. There were more than a few layoffs during that phase of Jobs' life. Jobs had about a decade where he pretty much seemed like a failing prick until Disney funded Toy Story and start the second successful era of Jobs.

I'm pretty firmly of the opinion that Jobs' #1 asset was his Reality-Distortion-Field, anyone standing too close to him would get caught in it, it seems.

And yet there are people who followed him from Apple to NeXT and then came back to Apple, like Bud Tribble and George Crow. And people who went along from NeXT to Apple, or Pixar to NeXT to Apple. And people who were laid off from NeXT when they stopped making hardware, like Jon Rubenstein, who joined Apple in the Jobs era.

For being a prick, he seems to have managed to attract some long-term loyalty.

I think pricks are better-tolerated when they are trying to achieve something their underlings think is worthwhile and unique.

This is so very true. The tinkering the article talks about didn't strike me as anything new or special because i do it every day in my job as a programmer. What i did get out of the article was this:

Steve Jobs was a completely insufferable asshole.

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