JobsWoz

Every Woz needs a Jobs. And every Jobs needs a Woz. I’m talking, of course, about Apple Computer co-founders, Steve Wozniak, and Steve Jobs.


Imagine the sum total of human knowledge as something of an inkblot.
the sum total of human knowledge
Lest the above figure be allowed to imply otherwise, the “stuff we don’t know” is potentially infinitely large. I created the figure with a focus on “stuff we know.” I did this because in the context of the Jobs/Woz symbiosis, I’m most interested in the boundaries between the known and the unknown.
The stuff we know is comforting. Routine, convention, repeatability; this is the character of that which provides comfort to the greatest number of people. The stuff we don’t know is scary to the greatest number of people. But this is not universal. There is a small minority of people who find comfort in the unknown; people who seek it out. Actually, this distinction falls along a continuum that looks something like this:

distibution of those who love novelty/orthodoxy

Individuals aren’t monolithic either. Even those who cling fiercely to tradition and dogma find an occasional hunger for novelty and vice-versa. Because I am essentially one big digression-in-action, I’d like to mention that I’ve noticed, with some irony, that many who fancy themselves “mavericks” are really little more than caricatures thereof. Like the majority of, say, the baby-boomers. With their Harleys and leather jackets, the whole Dennis Hopper-wannabe lot of them spend considerable effort and energy to evince what amounts to a hollow iconoclasm. Marvy. Fab. Far out.
My point is that the greatest majority of people live closest to the center of the inkblot. The further to the edge you travel, the fewer the occupants. This distribution is owed not only to the reptile-brain comfort of the known and fear of the unknown. It is also a reflection of the degree of erudition and refinement of knowledge necessary to travel to the edges of the blot. To wit; if we limit the blot to “stuff we know about mathematics,” the center of the blot will comprise basic arithmetic and as you travel toward the edge you encounter propositional calculus, number theory and so on. To posit completely new mathematical knowledge, one must have first traversed a considerable path of increasing mathematical sophistication. Thus, the paucity of inhabitants at the edge of the blot is not only a function of discomfort but also of erudition.

Steve Wozniak

These edge-dwellers live in the thin air of the mountain-top. The austere panorama with which they grow to find resonance is not the tableau encountered by those in the thick of the inkblot. They are the Wozes—the pioneers—and they are most commonly nerds of the highest order. They will corner you at a party for an uncomfortably long stretch, invade your personal space, and wax passionate about quantum computing. Herein lies the rub. How can new ideas—and more importantly, their everyday implications—become known and useful to the widest audience?

Steve Jobs

This is where Jobs comes in. David Hume wrote of the divide between the “Learned” and the “Conversible.” This is a somewhat imperfect analog to the continuum I’m describing. Steve Jobs is not squarely within either of these camps. He rather stands astride both. His prefrontal cortex is big enough to assimilate the requisite nerd knowledge, and his ego is big enough to comprise the necessary charisma to sell said knowledge.
This is a tenuous and necessary thread that ties novelty to orthodoxy. Left to their own devices, the orthodox would happily maintain existing structures even in the face of changing circumstances. Only novel solutions can solve novel problems. As Einstein famously said;

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

We need Wozes that obtain to that next level and we need Jobses to imbue new solutions with charm and make them digestible.

5 thoughts on “JobsWoz

  1. I know little of mr. jobs guru level technical achievements. I DO know that he puts on a good show, worth of a mashing of the page refresh button until the link of the most recent keynote appears like some kind of christmas day miracle. It seems for woz being the silent partner, (slient at least to the majority of the public) he is a very well respected man.
    Re: your inkblot theory. It is very true that few people reach the outer limits of whats known. Partly because the journey is so long to get there. We are each born with one tank of gas. Most burn our fuel milling about in the center. A few of us set out for the horizon early pursuing the edge of known existence…scary, and quite a commitment. Those brave explorers who spent their valuable fuel going further into the abyss must have sacrificed some kind of general knowledge along the way, whether it’s how to score bowling by hand, or the ’04 SNL cast.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Chopper. I think your point about sacrificing general knowledge is spot on. That’s why Mr. Jobs’ dog & pony show is so important. Someone has to make this marginal stuff accessible.

  3. Well, you know the drill…if you have to say you are something, you probably aren’t… I’m referring to the noteworthy commentary on most self-proclaimed mavericks being caricatures. Good point there.
    I find Steve Jobs somewhat irritating. For a guy who’s pretty much ALL show, the geek in me finds it reprehensible that he’s regarded as a genius…a genius in the sense that he’s taken modest personal talent and turned it into wild success off of the work of others. No doubt that takes skill, but its hardly admirable and I’d prefer to regard genius as being a bit more than that.
    That being said, Apple was dreadful without him and achieved little. They needed someone who’d set an objective and not deviate from it, ever–that’s what Jobs does. He always insisted on “insanely great” and sits at the top of a company that’s always looking for a better way. And they make money now too! That’s good to see. So yeah. I guess he IS necessary. A bit too necessary maybe–he won’t be around forever, and what of Apple after he leaves? There are plenty of executives who led companies to astonishing heights, only to retire and leave the same company to decline. REALLY great leadership is a bit more ego-free.
    As for the thoughts on comfort/discomfort, isn’t it painful to see how much of this world is consumed by a desire for complacency? Its championed. We live in an age of unrivaled comfort and convenience (and I’d argue that technology accounts for much of this, but that’s another discussion). There are very few individuals who live for the undiscovered, who commit themselves to pushing boundaries, be they mental, emotional, or physical. There are fewer organizations and almost no corporations founded (at least honestly) on this mentality. Even in our industry, many of the most highly regarded “creative” shops just repeat themselves over and over and over again (take a look around St. Louis…and I’ll have you know that Madison, where I’m at, isn’t much different).
    Of course, this repetition is understandable. Its a great way to make money. High production output, minimal time.
    One of the only groups I can think of that’s truly dedicated to going to those outer-limits is a pretty unique gym in Salt Lake City–Gym Jones, http://www.gymjones.com. Worth a look.
    What I like about this post is that it gets away from the rather childish, Fountainhead-ish focus on all human progress stemming from one ego. I’m not denying the power of that. I just believe very strongly that what’s so unique and compelling about human intelligence is the power in community, in partnership. That really magical collaboration between two different mindsets that share the same goal: something greater than either one of them.
    Additionally, its nice to see folks in this industry quoting Hume and Einstein. Brian Creath has a quotation from Cicero on his wall…all rare things. For a so-called “creative industry,” you’d think that’d be more common…

  4. Brad, re: complacency
    The necessity for a drag on innovation has been described to me using a biological metaphor; Imagine a geographically-isolated population of some species. Let’s say that a mutation occurs (miraculously) that is a speciation event, forbidding any backward breeding, and (also miraculously) the previous species all die. Now imagine that in a few generations, the new species cannot adapt to some change in the environment and die. There are none of the previous species to fall back on as a stable genetic foundation from which to, “try again,” as it were.
    A Pirsigian take on it might suggest that the passion to do something amazing is like the leading edge of a speedboat, and the desire to do what you know will work is like the wake of the boat. Both are a necessary condition of the boat making forward progress.

  5. Apple and Jeep have a very similar, and sometimes shared, customer base. They take pride in their choice of consumer products, to the point where some alienate themselves from non-users (i.e. Jeep owners’ window sticker “It’s a Jeep thing…you wouldn’t understand.”) They enjoy the comfort found in owning a Jeep or Apple product so much they feel it’s necessary to make others uncomfortable and self-conscious about their buying choices.
    Any car owner could have the same window sticker mounted on their windshield, but because of the corporate culture, branding efforts and history of the product the effect would be lost. A “It’s a Ford thing … you wouldn’t understand.” sticker would probably invoke bewildered stares and plenty of laughs.
    Strikingly, former Apple employees see this non-homogenized attribute in their upper management as acceptable and commonplace. Apple’s secrecy (or outright paranoia) intentionally leaves its own field directors and sales managers in the dark when it involves business/enterprise customers. It’s almost as if they’re collectively flipping the bird to any business owner. Add to that the fact that senior sales manage encourage hyper-competitiveness among salespeople; they actually begin cannibalizing other sales departments’ leads and it’s encouraged!
    So, in regards to the health of the company upon Jobs’ or Woz’s departure, the superego that once was the law of the land gives way to the same devious games upper management played throughout the 1980s/1990s. Except, this time, the appeal of the Apple brand and loyalty of die-hard customers will be tougher to break.

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