Though it goes against my contrarian grain, I’m a huge fan of Steve Jobs. (Call it contrarianism squared).
This is a relatively new malady which has been produced by watching quite a few videos of him and reading a bit about him. It’s really remarkable to watch the steadiness of his vision right back to before the Mac. And to be able to deliver it is remarkable. All the other famous businesspeople in history (OK I don’t know more than a few but I guess I’m thinking of Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan) dominated a particular industry and company for a generation and achieved remarkable things.
I think of Jobs as to business and innovation what J. M. Keynes was to public policy in the 20th Century. Keynes made three interventions in the world of ideas each of monumental proportions – The Economic Consequences of the Peace, The General Theory and the negotiation of the Bretton Woods financial architecture. Jobs had the Apple I, Apple II, Mac, and the convergence appliances iPod, iPhone and iPad. And this was in between being chucked out of his company for a decade or so.
In any event, Christine Wallace’s John Hewson quotes him on the revelation of learning some economics “As soon as you get an equilibrium approach to life, suddenly you realise that a lot of what you’d thought was wrong.” In the above quote Steve gets the religion of the division of labour, but infuses it with his own perspective on innovation. Here the division of labour becomes a distribution mechanism for innovation and he demonstrates very nicely how miraculous it is.
I thought that Steve’s little sound bite was an excellent way of making a point we’re at pains to make at The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). It’s that most philanthropy and government exertion on public goods presumes that learning how to deliver them is a relatively straightforward thing – why a politician has a chat with a staffer on their way to a business lunch and voila – a school mentoring program is born. So we don’t spend any serious time or resources figuring out how to do it well. We don’t do R&D on the delivery of complex services.
We do at the Centre for Social Innovation and think we’ve got something pretty amazing to show for it. And because we’re generating new knowledge – it’s scaleable – in precisely the way Jobs is speaking of in the video. Here’s a short video about our most mature product so far – though we’re working up several others in the area of ageing.