How Steve Jobs changed; Jobs’ perfectionism and Apple’s success

“As seemingly everyone on the planet knows, Steve Jobs’s defining quality was perfectionism,” James Surowiecki reports for The New Yorker. “The development of the Macintosh, for instance, took more than three years, because of Jobs’s obsession with detail. He nixed the idea of an internal fan, because he thought it was noisy and clumsy. And he wanted his engineers to redesign the Mac’s motherboard, just because it looked inelegant.”

“At NeXT, the company Jobs started after being nudged out of Apple, in 1985, he drove his hardware team crazy in order to make a computer that was a sleek, gorgeous magnesium cub,” Surowiecki reports. “After his return to Apple, in 1997, he got personally involved with things like how many screws there were in a laptop case. It took six months until he was happy with the way that scroll bars in OS X worked. Jobs believed that, for an object to resonate with consumers, every piece of it had to be right, even the ones you couldn’t see.”

Surowiecki reports, “This perfectionism obviously had a lot to do with Apple’s success. It explains why Apple products have typically had a feeling of integrity, in the original sense of the word; they feel whole, rather than simply like collections of parts. But Jobs’s perfectionism came at a price, too. It could be literally expensive… When Jobs returned, he still wanted Apple to, as he put it, ‘own and control the primary technology in everything we do.’ But his obsession with control had been tempered: he was better, you might say, at playing with others, and this was crucial to the extraordinary success that Apple has enjoyed over the past decade… In giving up a little control, Jobs found a lot more power.”

Much more in the full article here.


  1. Real artists ship!

    Jobs always knew that; he drove his early Mac team hard for achieving his idea of ready for shipping standard. However, that doesn’t mean he wanted absolute perfection. If that were the case, no product of Apple would ever require an upgrade/update. Jobs understood that, but what he didn’t inherit from the engineering+business schools of trade-offs/slack-offs motto, is how to compromise on quality. Macs still shipped with fewer RAMs than needed and Jobs wasn’t happy. There’s a very revealing moment in Andy Hertzfeld’s account of the morning when Mac OS was entering final release state.

    Jobs had changed over the years (iPhone originally shipped without the copy/paste functionality), everyone does, but it’s the Universe that seems to have changed more to accommodate him.

    1. That wasn’t a typo, and that’s why he drove his hardware team crazy. Do you have any idea how hard it is to make a baby bear out of magnesium? You apparently have no knowledge of biology or metallurgy.

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