Thursday, August 25, 2011


Genius is rare,. It's not just about pure intelligence, it's more abstract, more mercurial than that. It's a combination of factors coming together at the right time. As one of my favorite poets (apart from CW) said, "Genius creates, and taste preserves. Taste is the good sense of genius; without taste, genius is only sublime folly. ".

We all stand on each other shoulders and original thought is practically unheard of, but every once in a while we see it. Every once in while someone comes along and changes everything. That is Steve Jobs.

He isn't an electrical or software engineer. He didn't attend Stanford or Berkeley, in fact he barely went to college at all. What he did do is change the landscape, and not in just one industry, but of the World. He made products that were fun, cool, intuitive and well, just seemed right.

Back in the 90's during Jobs' exile from Apple, he was asked what he thought of Bill Gates and Microsoft. He replied they had worked hard and deserved their success, and then after a long pause he said "but they have no taste".


Bill said...

I like that a poet, Alexander Pope is quoted on CW and quoted with context!

NavyAustin said...

Having worked in seriously wonky tech companies over the years, and a lifelong AlphaGeek, it dawned on me Sunday what Jobs did better than anyone:

He made decisions.

In technology, there are many potential solutions for every problem - protocols, operating systems, file formats, interfaces, taxonomies, etc. They all have varying degrees of "rightness" and relative strenghts and weaknesses.

In a typical engineering-driven company, each will have champions and partisans. The marketing engineer, not wanting to exclude a possible market segment, will insist that all be supported. The result? Systems that offer a zillion "choices" but create significant barriers to use.

Or, when they do make a firm choice, they will "optimize" a part of the system that doesn't benefit from optimization - Sony's bizzare devotion to MemoryStick flash memory (instead of widely available and readable-on-most-laptop SD cards) for their otherwise splendid cameras is a perfect example.

Jobs made bold decisions early. The first Mac jettisoned the 5 1/4 inch floppy for the 3.5 inch only. Later, they would drop the floppy before others. The MacBook Air dropped the optical drive.

He embraced technologies when they were the best (FireWire/1394 for video transfer) but dropped them when something better and more widely adopted came along (USB 2.0).

He made swift corrections. The perfect workout companion, the tiny 2nd generation iPod shuffle with real buttons for no-look, on the go operation, went in a bad direction on the third generation - someone "improved" it by making it smaller but broke it into 2 pieces. Gen 3 was killed quickly and Gen 4 was a tiny improvement (2x the capacity, slightly smaller) over Gen 2).

In short, he made decisions. He eliminated "choices" that didn't improve things for most users. Look at the world of Linux on the desktop - a zillion choices, few adopters, and the only ones who seem to like it are those who fiddle with the OS and configuration. Mac users just use their computers to do things.

And yes, he did it with style and taste. The definition of perfection - not when there is nothing more to add, but nothing less to take away.

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