Steve Jobs' Real Genius: Tweaking, Curating, Editing & Remixing To Make Things Better

from the indeed dept

We've argued a few times that Steve Jobs' real success wasn't in inventing anything particularly new, but in taking what others had done and making it better. That's why we found his complaints about Android seem so odd. Now, as a ton of you have submitted, Malcolm Gladwell has penned a piece on Steve Jobs' "real genius," which he describes (eloquently, as always) as a "tweaker" more than inventor. Elsewhere, he's described as an "editor," rather than inventor.
Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it. After looking at the first commercials for the iPad, he tracked down the copywriter, James Vincent, and told him, “Your commercials suck.”

“Well, what do you want?” Vincent shot back. “You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.”

“I don’t know,” Jobs said. “You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.”

Vincent argued back and suddenly Jobs went ballistic. “He just started screaming at me,” Vincent recalled. Vincent could be volatile himself, and the volleys escalated.

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’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo, and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge. He looked at the title bars—the headers that run across the top of windows and documents—that his team of software developers had designed for the original Macintosh and decided he didn’t like them. He forced the developers to do another version, and then another, about twenty iterations in all, insisting on one tiny tweak after another, and when the developers protested that they had better things to do he shouted, “Can you imagine looking at that every day? It’s not just a little thing. It’s something we have to do right.”
This is a key point that we've been arguing about for years. There's tremendous value in what Jobs did: innovating not actually by inventing, but by tweaking and "editing" the ideas and designs of others to make them "perfect." That act of taking what others have done and making it more valuable is such an underrated skill -- and yet it's really the key ingredient to innovation.

If you look back, historically, it's what Thomas Edison really did as well. He didn't actually invent very much himself. But he took others' ideas and made them better -- often recognizing how valuable the ideas were much more than those who originally came up with them. That's a form of editing and a form of remixing to make things better -- and Edison and Jobs were both amazingly skillful at it. So skillful, that many people falsely credit them with "inventing" things they really just remixed.


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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:31am

    This reminds me of those old BASF commercials: We don't make a lot of the products you buy, we make a lot of the products you buy better. BASF... the spirit of innovation.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:02pm

      Re:

      Most intelligent people can recognize something cool once they finally see it.

      Steve Jobs "genius" was in being a bigger asshole than anybody else in dork valley.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:36am

    The lesson to be learned is that Edison and Jobs were pirating freetards who stole money from the hard-working inventors. Clearly there needs to be laws prohibiting this type of intellectual property theft. Can you imagine what will continue? People will keep making a small tweak and calling it a new invention! For example, all of these so-called "modern" airplanes are really just rip-offs of the Wright Brothers' original design and they should be required to license the design with their descendants, because those companies are just coasting off the Wrights' hard work.

     

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      John Doe, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:38am

      Re:

      For example, all of these so-called "modern" airplanes are really just rip-offs of the Wright Brothers' original design and they should be required to license the design with their descendants, because those companies are just coasting off the Wrights' hard work.

      Exactly, the idea that it takes wings to fly can only belong to one, or in this case two men. Oh, and birds. They kind of had the lock on winged flight for a long time. Maybe we should think of the birds?

       

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        Gumnos (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:00am

        Re: Innovation

        My protozoan ancestors originally designed this "evolution" thing and you "evolvees" are merely coasting on minor tweaks in their original design. Pay up, you parasitic primates!

        :)

         

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        Ron Rezendes (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:22am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, the birds did it with moving wings - the Wright brothers however, did it with a fixed wing! Innovation by tweaking!

         

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          John Doe, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:40am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Not anymore, it is called piracy or patent infringement.

           

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          Ed C., Nov 8th, 2011 @ 3:04pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Actually, the original Wright flyer didn't have "fixed" wings in the common sense--it used wing-warping to literally warp the wings' wood frame and aerodynamic profile to make the plane roll.

           

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        Chosen Reject (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 12:38pm

        Re: Re:

        I'm fairly certain that pterosaurs all died off because birds ripped off their inventions and refused to pay them royalties. Slowly they all starved to death.

         

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    John Doe, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:36am

    But ideas are owned

    I wonder if this kind of thing can even get off the ground in today's permission society. Since we seem to think ideas can be owned and only the owner has sole right to act on the idea, we are handing individuals or corporations great power to determine what can and can't be done. Do we as a society really thing the needs of one out weight the needs of many?

    Today, the balance of power between IP holders (copyright & patents) is far to weighted to the inventor. In fact, I would say there really is no balance. Its as if a 100 lb weakling is standing on the opposite side of the scales form the 800 lb gorilla. To say there is any kind of balance is a joke.

     

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    Mike42 (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:43am

    Bloody hell... replace "Better" with "Simpler" and you've got it. Otherwise, you're being intellectually dishonest.

    Really, if Apple's products were Better, don't you think they could have gotten more than 8% of the PC market?

    Better implies an absolute: all other parts equal, a 3 gigahertz processor is BETTER than a 2 gigahertz processor. Apples products did no such thing. They appealed more to a subset of the population who wanted an easy way to accomplish tasks via computing devices, and did not mind paying a premium and losing some flexibility.

     

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      lfroen (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:05am

      Re:

      This kind of thing simply doesn't exists. You can't have "all other parts equal", there's always trade off somewhere.
      Sometimes it's power consumption, sometime it durability or just cost.
      Not everyone want best, some people prefer cheap.

       

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        nasch (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 12:15pm

        Re: Re:

        This kind of thing simply doesn't exists. You can't have "all other parts equal", there's always trade off somewhere.

        That was kind of his point, wasn't it? Apple products aren't "better" than the competition, they're just different. For example, I was shopping for a large screen laptop. I got a Windows 17" laptop for about $650. I could have had a 17" Mac for something like $2000. Was the Mac better? Not for me, I got what I needed and saved $1300.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:34pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Please tell me the specifications for your $700 17" laptop computer. I would like to see your side by side comparison:

          Processor (type and clockspeed)
          Memory (size, type and clockspeed)
          Storage (size and type - SSD or platter based)
          Ports (number and type - USB 3?, Thunderbolt?, HDMI?, etc..)
          Which OS is included (a stripped down windows? 64 or 32 bit)
          Additional software included? (not crapwear - useful pgms)
          Bluetooth? (macs come standard with bluetooth connectivity)

          After you upgrade your machine to matching specifications, please let me know how much your "bargain" system cost you. And then consider the added value of an all aluminum case, a magnetically connected power connector that doesn't damage the case just because you trip over the cord, the minimal impact of viruses on the platform, etc...

           

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            weneedhelp (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:41pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Are you REALLY going to ask for a price comparason on the Apple VS. PC Price arguement?

            You guys just love to lose dont you?

            Apple fan boys - No amount of reason gets through.

            "Bluetooth? (macs come standard with bluetooth connectivity)" LOL. I almost fell off my chair on that one.

            And before you start crying I support both platforms, and own quite a few MAC's as well... as well as I didnt pay for them. LOL.

            MAC MAC MAC MAC MAC MAC MAC. Shut up already. We all know you are just buying locked down PC hardware.

             

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            nasch (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 6:29pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            After you upgrade your machine to matching specifications

            Why would I do that? My requirements were 1. new 2. laptop 3. 17" screen. The $700 computer met all those requirements just as well as the $2000 one.

            And then consider the added value of an all aluminum case,

            Don't care...

            a magnetically connected power connector that doesn't damage the case just because you trip over the cord,

            Never tripped over the cord...

            the minimal impact of viruses on the platform,

            Can't get lower than zero (I never got any viruses)...

            etc...

            If you want to buy Apple because it's a better match for you, go right ahead, I won't criticize you. I chose to save a boatload of money by forgoing all that Apple stuff, and it worked out fine for me.

             

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            nasch (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 6:34pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            In case you're wondering though, the Apple (Macbook Pro I think it was called) came with a way more powerful processor, probably more and faster memory, probably more storage. And likely a much better video card. I think the Windows machine had 3 USB ports and 1 firewire, and wifi and bluetooth. I don't buy software from computer vendors, so no it didn't come with any extras. I got what I need from elsewhere, generally open source.

             

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      Transbot9, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      Ah, but he targeted a subset that had a higher disposable income bracket. Apple products are usually more expensive than equivolent hardware and software from competators, and they have a higher profit margin. Apple intentionally doesn't want to sell to everyone, else they would have more products designed for lower price points.

       

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      el_segfaulto (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:22am

      Re:

      While I definitely agree that Apple has a cult following and their products use the same basic components as any other PC (I'm not lumping in iOS devices into this), even I have to admit that they did a good job putting everything together in a seamless package. I spend a lot of time on my family's computers taking the crapware that gets bundled by the manufacturer, Apple does not tend to do this.

      Clock speed is not everything, and by extension bigger is not always better. My quad core processor running at 2.8 GHz will far outperform my older single core clocked at 3.2 GHz. My server's Xeon processors are only clocked at 1.8 GHz but because of the architecture are far more capable than my quad core.

      As I'm fond of saying, use the right tool for the job. For gaming and general computing, use a Windows PC. For servers, either Linux or BSD, for niche needs and nerdy street cred, use Linux, if you're idea of turning on the computer is smacking your forehead into the "on" button and you lack any sort of problem solving ability, by all means use a Mac.

      Written by an Arrogant Linux Elitist.

       

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      Michael Long (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:23pm

      Re:

      "Really, if Apple's products were Better, don't you think they could have gotten more than 8% of the PC market?"

      Currently 12.5% US, and rising.

      But back in the day, they weren't THAT much better, and Sculley insisted that Apple matain their premium prices. Microsoft shipped Windows, and to penny-pinching corporations, one machine with windows and a mouse looked pretty much like another machine with windows and a mouse. And since one was significantly cheaper...

      Then people started using computers at home, and they got what they already knew and used at work.

      "They appealed more to a subset of the population who wanted..."

      Who wanted to actually get things done, instead of fighting with the machine.

       

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        Mike42 (profile), Nov 9th, 2011 @ 7:44am

        Re: Re:

        OK, I'll take the bait.
        Microsoft also had the ability to run tons of software, from nearly all versions of it's software. DOS programs run on Windows 7 machines! Does an OS7 program run on OSX? Any of them?
        Microsoft has Visual Studio, allowing anyone to write software. Especially now with the Express Editions. And let's not even bring up Linux, with all development tools and libraries free for the taking...
        What was Apple's development studio called again?
        BTW, Wikipedia say's 8.15% share, I dunno where you got your data.
        I also see that you are dedicated to Apple development on your profile. I think it would be safe to say you are not a neutral commenter. Neither am I, as I only code for Windows and Linux systems.

         

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    ASTROBOI, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:53am

    What Edison did best.....

    ....was to rip off other peoples ideas, such as Tesla's, dumb them down, then make absolutely sure nobody could to the same to him. He didn't invent the phonograph, motion pictures, the electric light bulb and if he had his way, the world would be wired for direct current. Also, movies would still be made in New York and you would need a license to use a camera. Frankly, I suspect Jobs was a lot like Edison, leaching from others but doing his best to prevent anybody else from achieving anything at all. All the same, it seems the world needs people like this from time to time. Too bad it has to be like that.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 12:45pm

      Re: What Edison did best.....

      People keep saying Jobs was the one who made all these new products. Like he was the one who took a new idea and made it real instead of being the guy who just said "okay".

      Do we even have the names of the design engineers who made the iPhone 4? Or the iPad? Or the iPod? Or do we just attribute this to Jobs because he was the one on stage holding it during a press conference?

      Pretty much all CEOs do this, Edison was the definition of a modern-day CEO. Riding atop the shoulders of the true nameless geniuses who were below him.

       

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        Michael Long (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:24pm

        Re: Re: What Edison did best.....

        "Do we even have the names of the design engineers who made the iPhone 4? Or the iPad? "

        You mean like Ive?

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:47pm

          Re: Re: Re: What Edison did best.....

          How about the names of the people who worked under him? There's a good chance that they did just as much work as he did on the designs, yet he gets the credit for the designs.

           

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 10:54am

    I personally picture Steve Jobs as a dude who liked to yell at people because he couldn't come up with his own ideas, he just yelled at people until they came up with ideas he liked.

     

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      John Doe, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 4:14pm

      Re:

      The difference between Steve Jobs and the management of my company is that Steve Jobs at least recognized a good idea when he heard it.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 6:20pm

      Re:

      It is called having high standards. I prefer to work with people that push me out of my comfort zone and challenge me to do my job better. This is how we learn and grow as individuals. I feel sorry for you if you cannot take a little pressure or choose not to improve yourself.

       

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    Transbot9, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:17am

    A minor counter

    With art and design, nothing is ever done, nothing is ever perfect. There are times when one has to say "close enough, let's move on."

    Then you just put the next wave of refinements into the next product and upsale the improvements :D

     

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    Ron Rezendes (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:28am

    The ulimate VAR

    Jobs was the ultimate Value Added Reseller. He tinkered with things until they worked in such a way that they would command a higher price to make them lucratively profitable. He did it well.

    I'm not a Jobs fan or even an Apple fanboi (I don't own a single Apple product), but I do like to give credit where credit it is due. Jobs has earned a tip of the cap from me for helping advance modern consumer electronics.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:32am

    Shouting at people to "produce" is your notion of innovation?

    The word you're seeking is "king", and the unspoken ultimatum is "or off with your head!" -- Any fool who's born rich has the ability you're praising.

    And I consider all Apple products crap.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:21pm

      Re: Shouting at people to "produce" is your notion of innovation?

      out_of_the_blue = apple hater

      Almost all of their products are as good as or better than their competitors. Asthetics, user experience, features and ease of use are what brings customers into Apple stores. While you are stomping your feet about how bad Apple products are every electronics manufacture in the world is trying to duplicate their success.

       

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        S, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:25pm

        Re: Re: Shouting at people to "produce" is your notion of innovation?

        Tell me, how many tissues did you need in order to write this?

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:52am

    Steve Jobs' real skill was taking from others, turning out new products, patenting them, and not getting sued out of business for doing it.

    That is a skill.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 11:57am

      Re:

      ...and not getting sued out of business for doing it while suing everyone else in sight with vague patents.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:27pm

        Re: Re:

        Yup. I cannot imagine him being someone that Techdirt would celebrate, he is absolutely the enemy to everything you guys stand for.

         

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    Steve, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 12:30pm

    Uhh, really WOW..

    Steve Jobs did not invent anything nor was he the innovater. He took credit for others work. He was a great business man who stepped on and took advantage of the real innovaters/inventors to get where he was. With Techdirt being a "news" agency would lead one to believe that the creditablity of the stories would actually be fact checked.

     

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      nasch (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 12:55pm

      Re: Uhh, really WOW..

      With Techdirt being a "news" agency would lead one to believe that the creditablity of the stories would actually be fact checked.

      What gave you the idea Techdirt is a news agency? It's an opinion blog.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 9th, 2011 @ 4:27am

      Re: Uhh, really WOW..

      Why? Trolls like you don't even get their head checked. News "Agency". LOL!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:08pm

    Job was a great car salesman eventhough he never build any car.

     

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    Prashanth (profile), Nov 8th, 2011 @ 1:46pm

    Did their utmost

    It's interesting that you characterize Jobs and Edison in this light, considering that both of them did their utmost to prevent anyone else from doing (with their respective works) what they did with what came before them. Both did so through being overly litigious and patent-happy.

     

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    Aleron, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 2:25pm

    Steve Jobs is not really dead

    I heard Steve Jobs isn't really dead, someone saw him in Oakland playing guitar and singing a Bob Dylan set. Apparently, he invented a new version of 'Blowing in the wind' and its much better and more user friendly. Copyrights and patents are pending 'iBlow iWin'

    He's also working on a new version of Einstein's theory of relativity. Much better, smoother and appealing to the ear, and here's the kicker, it looks much better on paper than the original formula, he's using a fully copyrighted font called 'Apple Retentive Helvetica' Patents on the new theory are pending.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 8th, 2011 @ 5:27pm

    Perhaps some might gain a better appreciation of the work done by Edison if they spend some time perusing http://edison.rutgers.edu/index.htm

     

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    PeterKinnon, Nov 9th, 2011 @ 12:15pm

    There ain't no Inventors

    Re:
    "That's a form of editing and a form of remixing to make things better -- and Edison and Jobs were both amazingly skillful at it. So skillful, that many people falsely credit them with "inventing" things they really just remixed."

    As I have posted elsewhere:

    These observations are both very true and very important to our proper understanding of this World.
    What is almost always overlooked, however, because of our naturally anthropocentric standpoint is the logical consequence of such observations. Namely that, except in a very limited sense, we do not "create" or "design" things but rather that and technology EVOLVE within the medium of our collective imagination.
    As Carl Sagan put it "To make an apple pie from scratch you first have to create the universe"
    Without Jobs we would still have functionally comparable user interfaces, pointing devices and so forth. Just as without Newton or Liebnitz we would still have the calculus of variations, or relativity without Einstein, without Stephenson, the steam engine, without Edison, the phonograph I am not disparaging any of these individuals but it must be admitted they were mostly picking the low-hanging fruit.
    This is a major theme of my latest book : "The Goldilocks Effect: What Has Serendipity Ever Done For Us?" (free download in e-book formats from the "Unusual Perspectives" website)

     

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    José, Jul 23rd, 2013 @ 3:21pm

    adding value

    Jobs yelled at people because he was frustrated they werent Steve Wozniak.

    What he actually did is turning an existing set of inventions, refining them, deciding what worked and what not, mass-produce them and make the WHOLE world perceive them as premium objects.

     

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