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technology review November/ December 2011
From the Editor
What can we learn from the life and legacy of Steve Jobs, the
cofounder, chief executive, and tutelary genius of Apple,
who died in October?
More than anyone else, Jobs shaped the machines of the
digital revolution and, with those machines, the texture of
modernity. He was responsible for six creations of unrivaled
influence—successively, the Apple II, the Macintosh, the movie
studio Pixar, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—and they all
bear the stamp of his methods and values. The products he over-
saw were simple, elegant, and genuinely novel.
How did he do it? In a paradox that has been endlessly wor-
ried over, Jobs’s preoccupation with delighting consumers was
accompanied by confidence that there was no point in asking
what they wanted. A 1989 interview in Inc. magazine contains
the best account of his method. He hedged that his process was
“hard to explain,” but he offered this: “Customers can’t anticipate
what the technology can do. They won’t ask for things that they
think are impossible.” But, he continued, “it takes a long time to
pull out of customers what they really want, and it takes a long
time to pull out of technology what it can really give.”
Jobs elaborated: “Sometimes the technology just doesn’t want
to show you what it can do. You have to keep pushing on it and
asking the engineers over and over again to explain why we can’t
do this or that—until you truly understand it. A lot of times,
something you ask for will add too much cost to the final product.
Then an engineer might say casually, ‘Well, it’s too bad you want
A, which costs $1,000, instead of B, which is kind of related to A.
Because I can do B for just 50 cents.’ And B is just as good as A. It
takes time to work through that process—to find breakthroughs
but not wind up with a computer no one can afford.”
In his obituaries, Jobs was called a visionary. The word is jus-
tified: he had visions, and he persuaded cofounders, investors,
employees, and, finally, customers to share them. Yet the word
“visionary” implies mysterious powers, and as the Inc. inter-
view suggests, Jobs’s method wasn’t magic. But the details were
laborious. He was not an engineer. He combined and refined
borrowed ideas (from Xerox PARC most famously, but also from
typesetters, industrial designers, and the counterculture). He
ignored vulgar consensus, took risks, and killed unsatisfactory
projects. He demanded excellence; anything that was substan-
dard, hurried, cluttered, or dumb pained him, and he rejected
it. He concerned himself with the smallest details of products,
insisting, for example, that his engineers redesign the mother-
board of the Mac, which almost no one would ever see, because
he found its initial layout aesthetically displeasing. He hired the
best designers and engineers, and by persuasion and bullying,
he inspired them to build his insanely great machines.
Apple (and by extension Jobs) existed, he always said, at the
intersection of the liberal arts and technology. He was an art-
ist whose medium of expression was computing. He wanted to
excite passionate fandom from his customers, because he was
himself technology’s biggest fan. And like all real artists, he
didn’t create his artifacts to get rich. He did it for the absorbing
love of his craft.
In a justly famous speech at the 2005 Stanford University
commencement, Jobs spoke about the patterns in life, about the
clarifying power of knowing we will die, and about getting fired
from Apple in 1985.
He said, “I was a very public failure, and I even thought about
running away from the Valley. But something slowly began to
dawn on me—I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple
had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still
in love. And so I decided to start over.”
Jobs insisted that being fired was the best thing that could
have happened to him: “The heaviness of being successful was
replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again ... It freed
me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” During
the next five years, he founded NeXT and Pixar and met his wife.
NeXT led to his return to Apple, and he saw the technology he
created at NeXT at the heart of the Macintosh operating system.
Jobs concluded: “I’m pretty sure none of this would have hap-
pened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple ... I’m convinced that the
only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve
got to find what you love ... Your work is going to fill a large part
of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what
you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to
love what you do.”
Steve Jobs was an artist and perfectionist. Would that all of us
followed his example.
Emulate the methods and values of apple’s late cofounder.
Nov11 Editor Letter.indd 10
10/13/11 4:31 PM
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