On the occasion of his retiring, Apple’s CEO is being hailed as the “recombinant mash-up” innovator par excellence.
The New York Times quotes innovation consultant John Kao as summing up the essence of Steve Jobs’ creative achievements as “recombinant mash-ups”–products like the iPhone that remix elements of existing technologies in new ways.
Wired, meanwhile, contrasts Jobs’ artsy inclinations with the engineering bent of his rivals Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
What is the secret to Apple’s success? After introducing the iPad 2 in March, Steve Jobs gave one answer:
“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing — and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices….”
Without Jobs, Apple’s only missing piece is the role he unofficially filled for years: Chief Advocate for Media, Humanities and Liberal Arts. If that sounds trivial, remember this: at several key points in its history, Jobs’ skill in this role saved and transformed the company.
Jobs famously isn’t a trained programmer, engineer or MBA, or even a wünderkind dropout steeped in any of those fields like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. (The New York Times even did a discussion panel earlier this year titled “Career Counselor: Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?” contrasting the two founders’ engineering vs liberal arts approach to education….)
Apple’s unique success with the iTunes store shows that “technology married with the liberal arts” is not just an issue of making devices that look pretty and are easy to use. User-centered design is a huge component of what Apple does and why it and other companies have been successful in the consumer market. But it’s also a question of being able to translate between technology, media and creative industries. This ability is what delivers key partnerships; this ability is what allows technology companies to build platforms.