Breakthroughs in Creativity #3 by Robert Gerlach
What else can you say about the most influential innovator of our time, when everything has already been pointed out? Biographies have been written, and the film industry has documented his life in not one, but three movies; Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (2012), Jobs (2013), and Steve Jobs (2015).
Has everything been said? Really? Or, could there be an undiscovered secret to the brain that revolutionized the computer, music, phone, and entertainment industries? Let’s have a closer look at one of Steve Jobs’ disruptive innovations – the iPod.
Creativity: just connecting things?
Steve Jobs once referred to his own ingenuousness in the quote, “Creativity is just connecting things.” Yes, connecting seemingly unrelated things is critical to innovation, but is it enough to revolutionize a whole industry – like the music industry? Does it explain how someone who grew up in the computer industry can suddenly change the music business by inventing a portable music player such as the iPod? Does it explain how someone can convince the leading CEOs of the music industry to contribute their songs to the Apple software platform iTunes?
Finding inspiration outside of an area of expertise is one thing. Revolutionizing the whole industry is another. Saying that creativity is just connecting things is like claiming that being a success in football is as simple as “passing the ball.” It takes a bit more to revolutionize an industry.
Now, the big question arises: What exactly is needed to revolutionize an industry?
The true key to Steve Jobs’ ingenuity
The iPod was the result of many influences that came into play around this period. One was that computers became the digital hub for mobile devices. Another was that while music download platforms like Napster and Grokster became popular, they ran into legal difficulties over copyright infringement and had to cease operations. But neither Sony or Microsoft saw the upcoming potential for digital music players. It was Steve Jobs who combined his heterogeneous experience from the computer and entertainment industries.
In the following, Steve Jobs explains why the computer and entertainment industries don’t have a clue about each other, and how he became aware of a great divide when he went to Pixar Animation Studios: “Tech companies don’t understand creativity. They don’t appreciate intuitive thinking, like the ability of an A&R guy at a music label to listen to a hundred artists and have a feel for which five might be successful.” Jobs continues, “Tech companies think that creative people just sit around on couches all day and are undisciplined because they have not seen how driven and disciplined the creative folks are at places like Pixar.” The great innovator finally reveals what made him unique, “I’m one of the few people who understands how producing technology requires intuition and creativity, and how producing something artistic takes discipline.”
Steve Jobs had a deep understanding, as deep as the invisible part of an iceberg, of two industries which had nothing in common besides misconceptions and prejudices. It was Steve Jobs’ heterogeneous knowledge and his extensive network in both industries that helped him to successfully roll out a disruptive innovation such as the iPod.
The tragedy of having one expertise only
Of course, there are a lot of other things you could say about Steve Jobs and what made him unique. Making a novelty a success always requires a broad set of skills and expertise. For instance, Steve Jobs had good taste. Bill Gates once said, “I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste.” A noteworthy realization. Most people aren’t even aware that they don’t have any. Even some graphic designers seem to make a living without having good taste. Just look at the billboards in your local subway. Jobs possessed the rare gift to evaluate a novelty from both the technological and aesthetic aspects. Often a decision-maker evaluates a prototype, but only possesses one expertise, which might result in a technically brilliant but aesthetically ugly product or a creative director could be excellent at copywriting but may have little ability to evaluate typography or good graphic design, meaning he ends up hiring “second-class” art directors. That’s what Steve Jobs meant when describing the difference between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. Someone with expertise in only one domain does not necessarily understand the other and therefore hires “second-class” creatives, which will never result in a stunning product.
Find out more about Steve Jobs’ unknown secret and how heterogeneity fosters disruptive thinking in my new how-to book >> Innovator’s High