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Communications of the ACM

ACM Opinion

Steve Jobs and the Economics of Elitism


Steve Jobs and Apple iPad

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The more, the better. That’s the fashionable recipe for nurturing new ideas these days. It emphasizes a kind of Internet-era egalitarianism that celebrates the “wisdom of the crowd” and “open innovation.” Assemble all the contributions in the digital suggestion box, we’re told in books and academic research, and the result will be collective intelligence.

Yet Apple, a creativity factory meticulously built by Steven P. Jobs since he returned to the company in 1997, suggests another innovation formula — one more elitist and individual.

This approach is reflected in the company’s latest potentially game-changing gadget, the iPad tablet, unveiled last week. It may succeed or stumble but it clearly carries the taste and perspective of Mr. Jobs and seems stamped by the company’s earlier marketing motto: Think Different.

Apple represents the “auteur model of innovation,” observes John Kao, a consultant to corporations and governments on innovation. In the auteur model, he said, there is a tight connection between the personality of the project leader and what is created. Movies created by powerful directors, he says, are clear examples, from Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” to James Cameron’s “Avatar.”

From The New York Times
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