Steve Jobs: The Tweaker

A few days ago my good friend SooSang asked me what I thought about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on The New Yorker titled “The Tweaker”. I respect Gladwell as someone who gets right down to what really matters, but something didn’t sit quite right when I was done reading. I thought, “Steve Jobs couldn’t have been merely a tweaker.” Today John Gruber wrote “Getting Steve Jobs Wrong” and that got me to read Gladwell’s article again.

Gladwell takes the shouting match between Steve Jobs and James Vincent, the copywriter for the first iPad commercials as evidence that “Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive.”

Jobs: Your commercials suck.
Vincent: Well, what do you want? You’ve not been able to tell me what you want.
Jobs: I don’t know. You have to bring me something new. Nothing you’ve shown me is even close.
Vincent: You’ve got to tell me what you want.
Jobs: You’ve got to show me some stuff, and I’ll know it when I see it.

Sometimes we can’t express what we feel. This doesn’t happen in technology, in math, in physics, in chemistry. We can always express factual science. What Jobs was seeking wasn’t the result of a scientific formula, a formula with discreet answers. What Jobs wanted was something that made him feel a certain way. He wanted everyone watching future iPad ads to feel something. Jobs wanted Vincent to show him stuff that would evoke an emotional response. Not any emotional response but something Jobs felt deep down, something that was difficult if not impossible to express in words, but still a certain emotion that was clear and precise, to him, in his heart.

In hindsight we know what Jobs was looking for. It’s not easy to explain in words, but whatever it is it is strongly present in Apple’s iPad commercials.

Remember that line about Apple being in the crossroads of technology and the humanities? This “I’ll know it when I see it” is part of the process of creating stuff that is both technically brilliant and emotionally compelling. You just cannot have all the answers when it comes to stuff that deals with emotions.

A tweaker? Jobs was a ****ing tweaker? Jobs was a visionary on a quest to extract and fuse technical and emotional perfection from the most brilliant minds on earth.