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Two Roads to Innovation

In Steve Lohr’s recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Yin and Yang of Innovation” , he interviews John Kao, an innovation adviser, who uses the examples of Apple and Google to describe different models of innovation.  Google uses data and experimentation, with users as part of the process. Apple takes a top down approach. When Steve Jobs was once asked about what market research Apple used to create such amazing products, his response was “none”. The article also describes how many internet start-ups follow the Google model, taking advantage of the low barriers to enter the marketplace and create products based on “crunching the data”, but often breakthrough ideas come from individuals, not committees.  Ultimately, it seems as though the ideal model would be able to combine the Apple and Google models, but is easier said than done. Does anyone have any thoughts on these or other models of innovation?

Steve’s FBI File

While not what I had planned to post this week, last week’s release of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 191-page file on Steve Jobs is too ripe for discussion to pass up! The document reveals that he was given top secret clearance between 1988 and 1990. It also reveals he was considered by President George H. W. Bush’s administration for a position on the President’s Export Council. Most of the document is a 1991 background check for that position.

The Huffington Post article on the file reads like a laundry list of excerpts from the book. The “Distortion Reality Field” even gets a mention in the file when it states that Jobs “has a tendency to distort reality in order to achieve his goals”.

The article states that one individual “believed the appointee has what it takes to assume a high level political position within the government, which in his opinion, honesty and integrity are not prerequisites to assume such a position.” Other individual describe his monastic-like existence.

There are some amusing parts of the file that read almost like a conscious effort to make negative comments about Jobs, for example, it states that some individuals cast doubt on Jobs’ technical qualifications and later also points out that Jobs had a 2.65 high school GPA.

While I think our book is a better read than the FBI file. It appears the file got much of the gist of Steve Jobs. Which got me thinking, after reading this book, how would you sum up Steve Jobs? What elements of his personality resonated with you as a reader? Has learning more about Jobs changed your perception of Apple? Let’s discuss!

Apple Ads

When you start talking to people about Apple or about Steve Jobs, the conversation often turns to the brilliance and ground-breaking nature of the advertising campaigns they employed over the years. The seminal ad, of course was the 1984 Super Bowl one (followed one year later by the much less successful Lemmings Super Bowl ad), and since yesterday was Super Bowl Sunday I thought we might start our next discussion topic here. I was struck in the book at how divided the internal opinion of the 1984 ad was (p. 162-165). Hind sight is always 20-20, I guess, but I wonder what would have happened if the hesitant voices had prevailed? But that was not the only iconic ads that Apple created. In case you need some refreshers – here’s a link to 10 most memorable Apple commercials and a great page showing the evolution of Apple print ads. Also here is a link with some images of the Think Different posters and the iPod ads which were discussed in the book as so revolutionary.

So I’d be curious to hear people’s thoughts on the marketing strategies Apple has used over the years. What do you remember? Why do you think you remember them? Did they influence your decision to buy an Apple Product? Any other comments about Apple’s advertising and marketing strategies also welcome!

Where Humanities Meet the Sciences

WOW! We are so excited about the great response to this online book club idea. If you have not gone and given us your first experience with Apple products, please do so. We are finding them so interesting. Before we get to the next discussion point, some housekeeping. If you want to keep up with new posts, and you frequent Facebook or Twitter, you can like WFU Alumni Facebook page and/or follow their Twitter feed to see when Giz and I post new items here. Otherwise, if you bookmark this page, you can always get back to it. We want to you join us as often as you feel compelled to and without regard to how far into the book you have read.

Now, on to another discussion topic. One of the things from Isaacson’s introduction that sucked me into the book was this quote from Steve Jobs on p. xix for those actually reading the print edition 😉

“Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

This struck me in large part because I’ve been in lots of conversations lately about how we define the value of a liberal arts education like the one we provide so well at Wake Forest. It seems to me that much of our value is that we allow people to stand at these crossroads between the humanities on one side and science and technology on the other. We don’t privilege one above the other but instead see value in both and hope that our students do as well.

Jobs so clearly was at that intersection, from his fascination with calligraphy and fonts to the obsession with packaging; from his astounding eye for design to his willingness to work insane hours to get an interface right. He loved music, literature, architecture, engineering, coding, circuit boards and all of these passions existed in him simultaneously and this was, in my opinion, part of what made him so extraordinary and revolutionary. He also was attracted to these kinds of people and brought many of them to work for him at Apple and at Pixar. It is a rare person that has such a 360 degree view of the world but those kinds of people do seem to ‘dent the universe.’ I also wonder if you can really choose to stand at the intersection or if it is a more innate way of seeing the world? Does education play a role? I’m curious to hear from you all whether being ‘forced’ to take courses across all disciplines while at WFU (or elsewhere) has given you a useful perspective for your professional or personal lives. Does standing at this intersection provide true value? I think it did for Steve and for Apple in General, but want to hear from you.

Apple Memories

Tell us about your first memories of or experience with an Apple product in the comments.

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Rosalind Tedford (left) and Giz Womack with their electronic editions of Steve Jobs.

Join us in February 2012 for a lively discussion of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson with WFU librarians Roz Tedford and Giz Womack.