For most of us, the idea that innovation moves ahead through the efforts of one great man — say, Steve Jobs — is easy to hold onto. We like the idea of the brave, lonely inventor.
But innovation is rarely about one person working alone. Others contribute to a unique formula of success.
Walter Isaacson, the author of the biography of Jobs and, most recently, “The Innovators,” has dissected what makes the organism of innovation breath. He’s one of our foremost observers of creative genius, having also written bios on Einstein and Ben Franklin.
As if he were batting for the cycle, Isaacson’s latest exploration is into the mind of Leonardo DaVinci. I saw Isaacson, also the CEO of the leading edge Aspen Institute, speak on Wednesday at the Envestment conference, where he gave a compelling keynote, touching frequently on the life and work of Steve Jobs.
Having observed Steve Jobs in his final days, Isaacson was able to condense what made Jobs and his Apple products great. His success — and Apple’s — is predicated on what I would call “the Apple Rules.”
Under the Apple Rules, products like the iPhone, iPod and Mac just didn’t emerge out of the ether in a flash of inspiration. They had to come from somewhere and were ushered into this world by teams of people. The Apple Rules work like this:
There Needs to Be a Symbiosis Between Humans and Machines.
Isaacson has found that throughout history — from Leonardo to IBM’s “Watson” computer — that we are strongest when we work with machines, but also preserve our humanity.
“Technology has always been disruptive,” Isaacson noted. “But every great creative person from Leonardo to the present can connect humanness to technology.”
Under the Apple Rules, this is why iPods don’t have an on-off button. They turn on easily and stay on until we stop using them. Jobs and his team engineered ease of use into all of their products. They are designed for human fingers and hands, not geeky code jockeys.
The Humanities are Just as Important as Technology.
Recalling that Jobs was interested in Eastern philosophy, art, design and literature, Isaacson said he brought all of these ideas into creating new products. Apple wouldn’t have made their unique brand so powerful without this influence of the humanities.
“Where value is created stands at the intersection of the humanities and technology and science.” Isaacson has discovered.
One of the first computer programmers was Lady Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the great romantic poet Lord Byron. Leonardo was an artist who saw himself as an engineer. Ben Franklin was a printer, journalist, tinkerer and scientist.
Find and Engineer the Beauty in Things.
While this is often where the humanities enter our lives — the appreciation of the arts — one of the Apple Rules is that you merge aesthetics with innovation.
Devices like Mac computers and iPods are gems of design. Jobs wanted them to be easy on the eyes. We’re often surrounded by ugliness. We want to hold beautiful things in our hands.
“Beauty mattered to Jobs. He stopped production of the Mac to create a circuit board where the chips would be lined up, He also listed the names of his engineers inside of the computer housing. He said that `artists sign their work.’”
Keep it Simple.
All of Apple products are known for their simplicity and seamless interfaces. You turn them on and you can figure out how to use them without instructions. Does the company’s current line-up of products fit this bill? You be the judge. All of its competitors have copied this characteristic — and at lower price points.
“The problem with technology today,” Isaacson notes, “is that techies don’t understand the human relationship.” It’s this link between people and machines that needs to be improved.
Meet Face to Face in Groups.
When Jobs was at Pixar, Isaacson recalled, he required an office space with a huge atrium that everyone had to pass through. They had to see each other every day and couldn’t go straight to cubes. The new Apple headquarters is a big ring. You have to walk around to get places. Interactions are bound to happen — in a creative way.
Although we have any number of ways to communicate remotely — teleconferencing, social media, instant messaging — the real creative work gets done when we’re in each other’s faces. It’s not a perfect way to create things, but it promotes diversity of opinion and a group dynamic.
After Isaacson concluded his talk, I had to know one essential thing. Since modern education doesn’t follow the Apple Rules, what do we need to do to stem the endless churning of tests and rote learning to compete in this century? What would he change?
“We should bring collaboration into the classroom,” Isaacson told me. What does that mean? We should encourage students to make things in teams, meet face to face and discuss/debate ideas. “Innovation tends to be collaborative.”
Ultimately, this means that teachers should put away their Powerpoints, administrators should shut down their testing regimens and allow students to get their hands dirty. Obeying the Apple Rules means throwing out the old way of doing things.
It’s this messy core of discovery that plays on our strengths, not the rotten idea that all we need to do is memorize facts and equations. It’s also where we find the seeds of creativity.
This article was written by John Wasik from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.