August 25, 2011
It will be a long time before we see again a CEO go out with all the attention that Steve Jobs has received from a chorus of worshipful essays, blogs, slideshows and videos in the past 24 hours.
There’s no question Jobs has been that rare thing—an innovator who understood the ripple effect of the cult of personality. He was as much a logo as a CEO. But that doesn’t take away from his accomplishments as a marketer, businessman and trendsetter.
Here’s a smattering of the tributes, in print and images, to Apple’s core:
Tim Fernholz, Good: “He earned his place in the pantheon of American innovators with iconic products like the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. He developed a global production system to build the company’s products cheaply and at high quality. iTunes revived the music industry, while the App Store created a whole new software market.”
James Surowiecki, The New Yorker: “Contrary to corporate mythology, most C.E.O.s could be easily replaced, if not by your average Joe, then by your average executive vice-president. But Jobs genuinely earned the label of superstar. He did so by making Apple a company that, time and again over the past decade, created industries out of whole cloth.”
Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: “Making ideas marketable and universal is what Jobs has done for most of his career. Steve Jobs has been called the Edison of our time. That’s even truer than it seems. His genius (not unlike Edison) is the mainstream application of existing ideas, rather than original invention. ”
Andrew Leonard, Salon: “But for me, Jobs’ career signifies something more primal—his comeback saga is a story of redemption, a fantasy epic in which a great king is toppled, but through force of will and grit and brilliance fights his way all the way back to the throne, and inaugurates an even greater empire. It’s hard to think of parallels. Muhammed Ali, maybe.”
Farhad Manjoo, Slate: “But Jobs’ achievement wasn’t just to transform Apple from a failing enterprise into a staggeringly successful one. More important was how he turned it around—by remaking it from top to bottom, installing a series of brilliant managers, unbeatable processes, and a few guiding business principles that are now permanently baked into its corporate culture.”
Of course, there are a few contrarian views, such as this Advertsing Age piece by Ken Wheaton, “Steve Jobs Isn’t THAT Awesome.” He pulls out some of Jobs’ stumbles, such as his annoying stubborn refusal to allow Adobe Flash in his products. (Then again, Edison had his loony invention of concrete houses.)
But wait, there’s more.
The New York Times pulled together this gallery of Jobs’ patents. And Huffington Post rolled out slideshows of 10 products that defined his career and some of his better quotes. There also are photo collections of Jobs through the years and one on MIT’s Technology Review website, titled “Steve Jobs: Secret Sex Symbol.” The latter comes complete with a soundtrack, the ’70s hit, “Dream Weaver.” I kid you not.
There are plenty of video snippets out there, but the one that does Jobs the most justice is the commencement speech he delivered at Stanford in 2005.
Or you could just save yourself a lot of clicking and check out Fast Company’s mashup of lines from the Jobs’ lovefest.
So if you happened you get into an elevator and it’s just Steve Jobs in there, what would you say to him?
August 22, 2011
As campuses begin to fill, it seems fitting to ask: When so many corporate execs say they want employees who are creative, critical thinkers who know how to collaborate, why are the chief measures of future performance standardized tests for which there is only one right answer for every problem and working together is, to put it mildly, frowned upon?
Education has always been a laggard to innovation. That reality is made clear in a new book about attention and the brain, Now You See It, by Cathy Davidson. She estimates that as many as 65 percent of the kids now in grade school will likely end up in jobs that don’t yet exist. And yet most schools still follow a model not all that different from when Henry Ford was pumping out Model Ts and Pittsburgh actually had steel mills. Education then—and now—is geared to serve an industrial economy, one in which conformity and punctuality kept the engine running and creativity gunked it up.
To Davidson, a professor of English and interdisciplinary studies at Duke University, this makes about as much sense as teaching kids how to make wooden barrels. There was a reason her students who turned in lame term papers could also churn out perfectly fine blogs. The latter was about writing for the world in which they lived, a highly social place where ideas bounce around like marbles in an empty bathtub, feedback is immediate and sharing trumps syntax.
Davidson is big on teaching digital literacy, not so much how to use the tools—the kids could teach that—but how to use them to develop ideas and express themselves responsibly. For instance, starting in grade school, students would be expected to collaborate on wikis and award points to classmates who move projects forward. The idea is to encourage students to take all this sharing and turn it into a productive way to solve problems and shape their world.
Not that Davidson is the only one thinking imaginatively about education. Plenty of people are, such as advocates for deep-sixing the standard lecture.
Ten years ago, the big thing was STEM, the initiative to keep the U.S. competitive, both by merging Science, Technology, Engineering and Math into one mega-discipline and shifting the focus from teacher talk to problem-solving and collaborative learning. Meanwhile, though, a lot of schools dealt with budget-slashing by eviscerating arts programs to the point where arts education became little more than reminding kids when “Glee” was on.
But now, with companies looking for creative thinkers and multimedia communicators, the arts—particularly media arts—are being worked back into the mix. Or, as they say in the land of acronyms, STEM is becoming STEAM. This has inspired no one less than Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart to quote Einstein.
As for phasing out the exercises in ennui more commonly known as lectures, that’s the mission of Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur, who thinks the conventional arrangement should be flipped: students learn material on their own time, with classes saved for making sense of how it applies in the real world. Mazur has created his own interactive software, Learning Catalytics, to ease the transition for skittish professors.
Let’s go to the video
Allow me to recommend a few relevant videos, some of which are, admittedly, lectures.
- Let’s start with Ken Robinson, one of the few people who can call himself a creativity expert without a whiff of arrogance. He’s been writing and speaking about creativity in education and business for more than 20 years now and nobody does it better. After a high-ranking British government official once told him that while creativity in education was important, the country’s schools needed to focus on literacy first, Robinson replied, “That’s like saying we’re going to bake a cake and if it works out, then we’ll put the eggs in.” His lectures are all over the web, but my favorite is this TED talk, made that much more entertaining by the work of RSA Animate.
- The aforementioned Cathy Davidson weighs in on the need to “unlearn” much of what we know about education if we want it to be relevant in the 21st century.
- Management guru Tom Peters—a bit over the top, as always—lays into the U.S. educational system in this 2008 talk, in which he implores audience members never to hire someone with a 4.0 GPA.
- It took place eons ago in Internet years, but this 2002 TED talk by Mae Jemison, a physician and the first African-American woman in space, is right on point. She warns against the consequences of keeping science and the arts separated.
- And finally, here’s a TED lecture by Brian Crosby, a Nevada elementary school teacher, who shares how his classes of low-income kids, most of whom speak English as a second language, have flourished in the world of wikis and blogs.
All of us have at least one teacher who knew how to hook us in, even before there was an Internet. My favorite was my 7th grade teacher, Roberta Schmidt. I will never forget the day she explained how ancient Egyptians mummified a body, especially the part about removing the brain through the nostrils. For a 12-year-old boy, that’s gold.
What about you? What teacher do you wish you could have cloned? And why?