Good Jobs

Keeps the doctor away, they say

I’ve just finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Great work Walter… I loved it.

Steve Jobs... nominative determinism would dictate that his success stemmed from combining two disciplines

Steve Jobs… nominative determinism would dictate that his success stemmed from combining two disciplines – in his case art and technology

I loved it for many reasons, and not only because it confirms that people who love animals so much that they never eat them are often absolute ARSES to other people.

(I’m also reading Morrissey’s autobiography.  It says the same thing).

But I loved it mainly because it was such a wonderful story.

I could have done with a few more numbers – what was Apple’s market share?  How many computers were actually sold… that sort of thing. But perhaps that would have spoiled it.  Would Goldilocks work better if we knew the temperature of the porridge?  It’s a story of personal triumph, the power of an individual to change the world, or small companies beating big ones, of someone rising and falling and rising, of art and commerce…

It’s also about maaaaad decisions that turned out to be correct:

  • Closed end-to-end hardware and software bundling systems like Apple coming out ahead of open-source code and software which could run on multiple hardware like Microsoft
  • … by coming out ahead I mean more profitable and creative.
  • Opening Apple shops.  Opening them at all, but especially in high rent areas, when purchasers would either buy online or drive to cheap areas
  • Out Disneying Disney at Pixar from a standing start
  • Launching a tablet controlled by fingers instead of with a stylus…

How did Jobs succeed, apart from the bit about being an arsehole and with inspired judgement about changing tastes?  He used to quote Wayne Gretzky’s line ‘Skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been‘.  (So much better than ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take’, which is shit)

Jobs and Apple succeeded by marrying technology and art in a way his competitors couldn’t.  Part of his genius was by focusing above all on simplifying the user experience.  Everyone else over-complicated things.

On that note, have you noticed how people routinely bracket together the phone and the tablet and predict that they will take over from the TV and the computer for watching TV programmes.  But in programme terms, the tablet is simple like a TV, while the phone is a multi-function communications device like a freaking computer.

According to the BBC’s iPlayer stats, which devices grew between January and November 2013?  Must be phones, yes?  NO.  It was television sets and tablets.  Not PCs, and not phones which both fell  So the growing ones were screens designed for video, and the shrinking ones are devices which we also use for checking how old Ian McShane is or calling our Mum, or sending messages.

People don’t really want to watch TV programmes on a freaking phone or computer when there’s a simple screen available.

Jobs understood that.

Anyway, Isaacson wisely decides that Jobs summarises the secrets of success best:

It was great to make a profit because that was what allowed you to make great products.  But the products, not the profits were the motivation.  It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who get promoted, what you discuss in meetings…

Some people say, ‘Give the customer what they want’. But that’s not my approach.  Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. .. People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.  That’s why I never rely on market research’.*

Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science.  I like that intersection. 

There’s something magical about that place.  There are a lot of people innovating, but that’s not the main distinction of my career.  The reason Apple succeeds is that there’s a deep current of humanity in our innovation.  Some of the best people working on the original Mac were poets and musicians on the side. In the seventies, computers became a way for them to express their creativity.  Great artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo were also great at science.  Michaelangelo knew a lot about how to quarry stone, not just how to be a sculptor.

Isaacson p 522-3.

That’s the sort of thing a TV executive would say, which is why it has become such a wonderful, evolving medium.   It doesn’t sound much like ‘big data’ or behavioural targeting, or monetising social interactions.  It is rooted in love of creativity and innovation, but rooted also in understanding the consumer experience, not loving the technology, or following the consumer’s opinion.

It’s a wonderful story.  Inspiring.

Good Jobs?  Not always. (Goodness might be over-rated). Great jobs more like.


* As a market researcher I’d be worried about dissing the profession.  But it’s all about expectation, context, and interpretation. The best research provides a model for understanding behaviour and encouraging creativity, not stifling it.


The original Apple Macintosh advert.  Interesting how the internet giant housing the film looks more like Big Brother than the woman wielding the hammer..