A Note About Steve Jobs

Given (1) the topic of my earlier post today (a tribute to a cognitively productive mind), (2) yesterday’s resignation of Steve Jobs from his position as CEO of Apple (though fortunately he remains on Apple’s board and staff), (3) and the object of CogZest and my own research, it is perhaps understandable that I should say  a few words about Steve Jobs.

First a major caveat: I have never met Steve Jobs in person. Still, one can sometimes make an educated guess about a person based on their work and their words—particularly when the two align. I have been in the Apple community for most of the last 24 years (after Jobs left Apple, I too became involved in UNIX and followed NeXT). I have also been interested in the mind and work of this person, an interest which has influenced my understanding of expertise (and vice versa). As is obvious from some of my  posts on SharpBrains, I am also actively analyzing and developing solutions to some of the problems I feel that Apple should itself be addressing. Still, I do not know Steve Jobs; so what I am writing briefly here is more about a concept than a person.

Steve Jobs, from my distant vantage point, seems to fit the description of a productive thinker in my recent paper. I ‘see’ a person

  • who is focused on getting the requirements right.
  • who sees opportunities where most others don’t yet even understand there is a problem.
  • who has highly developed cognitive “motive generators”.
  • who is very sensitive to his “cognitive itches”, i.e., one’s perceptions that something about a situation or solution is not right, or that an opportunity to do better lurks in the background somewhere.
  • who dares to think progressively when faced with such an itch, and to act when the time is right.
  • whose cognition cannot be understood without understanding his affect—including his remarkable cognitive zest.

Of course, there is a lot more to productive thinking than that. As I mentioned in my paper, although Max Wertheimer was hampered by physical metaphors and concepts (e.g., “centering”, and “tension”), Wertheimer nevertheless correctly understood that productive thinking is first and foremost about deep understanding of the requirements of the situation one faces. Steve Jobs strikes me as being someone who is deeply requirements driven; someone who rigorously adopts a designer stance. This is the engine of innovation. Every step in the design “process” is actually requirements driven. That’s a deep, recursive concept. It’s a concept that can be (and is) implemented and replicated at Apple and elsewhere, with or without Steve Jobs.

If I am right, then the way to understand the “motivation” of people like Steve Jobs, Aaron Sloman, Albert Einstein, Jacques Brel, Winston Churchill and so many other visibly brilliant minds, is not to ask what external objectives drive them nor is it to focus on their subjective experience, pleasure or “flow” (as Csikszentmihalyi put it), but to understand how they “see” the right problems and the right solutions that are implicit in situations. They perceive, think and respond with vigour, rigour and (often with) enthusiasm. David Marr was wrong: “Seeing” is not just cognitive in the dry sense of the term, it is inherently affective and motivational.

Note added 2011-08-26: Coincidentally, after I posted this blog entry, I read the following post on Steve Jobs. A good example of “passion”,  “attention to detail” (Peralta’s words), and motive generators being tripped (cognition and affect).

Note added 2011-11-05: The biography by Walter Isaacson supports this thesis regarding Jobs’s zest and motive generators even beyond my previous expectations.

Note added 2011-12-09:

Malcom Gladwell in the  New Yorker (Nov. 2011), using different terminology, extracted several examples from Isaacson’s book of Jobs’s motive generators at work (the book has many more). See my related post on Motive generators in major innovators and tweakers.

Stay tuned to this site for several detailed explanations of the role of motivator generators in progressive problem-solving and the development of your expertise.

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Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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