Steve Jobs’ Credo: “I’ll Know It When I See It”

Steve Jobs was a tweaker, Malcolm Gladwell writes in a New Yorker book review of the Steve Jobs biography. He took existing technologies and perfected them, obsessing about everything from the title bars at the top of windows in the Mac OS to the color of paint in his factories. This obsessive quality was part of who he was and extended to his personal life as well. He spent two weeks deciding what kind of washing machine to buy for his family.

Gladwell notes that tweakers who perfect inventions often bring about more progress than the original inventors:

Jobs’s sensibility was editorial, not inventive. His gift lay in taking what was in front of him—the tablet with stylus—and ruthlessly refining it

He was an editor in the sense that he saw his job as making hard choices on behalf of consumers. (Other product-oriented CEOs following in his footsteps, such as Jack Dorsey, also see their role as that of an editor). Jobs was really good at saying “No,”, as I’ve written before:

One of Jobs’ greatest talents was as an editor, selecting what not to include in a product. It was that ability which helped him save Apple from going off in 18 different directions and do a few things better than any other company.

In order to do so, he went through countless choices himself, typically rejecting a long line of options from those presented to him by the people who worked for him until he found perfection. He didn’t always know what he wanted until it was placed before him. “I’ll know it when I see it. That was Jobs’s credo” Gladwell writes, “and until he saw it his perfectionism kept him on edge.”