Steve Jobs’ Amazing Ability to “Discover” (Not Invent) Products

In the new winter issue of MIT SMR, editor-in-chief Michael S. Hopkins’ “Steve Jobs, the Way John Sculley Tells It” highlights a recent interview with the one-time Apple CEO about the current chief executive, who announced Monday that he’s taking a medical leave of absence.

John Sculley’s conversation with Leander Kahney, publisher of cultofmac.com and author of Inside Steve’s Brain, was published in October.

Hopkins says that the interview is provocative partly because of “Sculley’s abject frankness and vulnerability — his psychic near-nakedness,” and partly because of “Sculley’s efforts to describe what he calls Jobs’s sacrosanct “methodology”— design-centric, customer-experience-focused and committed to the belief that it’s what you decide not to do that matters.”

One great story from the interview is about the time Sculley and Jobs visited Edwin Land, inventor of Polaroid instant photography. Said Sculley:

“Dr Land had been kicked out of Polaroid. He had his own lab on the Charles River in Cambridge. It was a fascinating afternoon because we were sitting in this big conference room with an empty table. Dr Land and Steve were both looking at the center of the table the whole time they were talking. Dr Land was saying: ‘I could see what the Polaroid camera should be. It was just as real to me as if it was sitting in front of me before I had ever built one.’

“And Steve said: ‘Yeah, that’s exactly the way I saw the Macintosh.’ He said if I asked someone who had only used a personal calculator what a Macintosh should be like they couldn’t have told me. There was no way to do consumer research on it so I had to go and create it and then show it to people and say now what do you think?

“Both of them had this ability to not invent products, but discover products. Both of them said these products have always existed – it’s just that no one has ever seen them before. We were the ones who discovered them. The Polaroid camera always existed and the Macintosh always existed — it’s a matter of discovery.”

6 Comments On: Steve Jobs’ Amazing Ability to “Discover” (Not Invent) Products

  • TC | January 18, 2011

    Jobs’ and Apple really do have an amazing ability to come out with products that consumers don’t even know they want but as soon as they see it they “need” it

  • Leslie Brokaw | January 18, 2011

    From the New York Times yesterday:

    . . .Mr. Jobs’s leave is certain to cause anxiety with investors and consumers, because of the heightened competition the company faces. Perhaps more than any other chief executive, he is seen as inseparable from his company’s success.

    “He may be the most vital C.E.O. of our era,” said Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and director of its Center for Leadership and Change Management. . . .

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/technology/18apple.html

  • Leslie Brokaw | January 18, 2011

    And from the New York Times today, a look at the team of people who will run the company along with chief operating officer Tim Cook during Jobs’ absence:

    . . . A handful of other executives, whose roles are complementary to that of Mr. Cook’s, are also expected to see their profiles rise in Mr. Jobs’s absence. They include Jonathan Ive, a London-born designer who is Apple’s senior vice president for industrial design and close to Mr. Jobs. “He’s arguably the most important person there outside of Steve,” said Shaw Wu, an analyst at Kaufman Brothers. “He’s responsible for the look and feel of the products, the way they interact with users.” . . .

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/technology/18cook.html

  • david k | January 27, 2011

    It may seem odd to consider a platonic ideal for new technology, but I expect holding a complete vision is not uncommon among researchers whose work leads to high impact change. They work backwards developing the steps needed to reach where they want to go rather than looking steps that can incrementally move forward from current approaches.

  • dan | January 27, 2011

    In 1977 while doing research for a doctorate, I was overwhelmed by the slow process of accessing and managing date/information. I sat down, and extrapolated the UBS memory stick…had a vision of plugging in a small device and copying data to use. In the nuclear weapons industry in 1981, we were still using floppy disc about 8 inches by 8 inches.I saw, in my mind, a…

  • Cheenu Srinivasan | January 28, 2011

    In an Eastern philosophical view (eg Upanishad teachings of India),it is only ignorance that veils knowledge. All one has to do is to embark on a journey of enquiry and discover what is already there! For this one works on removing his/her ignorance which has no start date. Hence the view that nothing is really created anew but only discovered. Perhaps Steve Jobs ‘discovered’ this learning while on his sojourn in India in his very early days.

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