The real genius of Steve Jobs, the perfectionist

“Not long after Steve Jobs got married, in 1991, he moved with his wife to a nineteen-thirties, Cotswolds-style house in old Palo Alto. Jobs always found it difficult to furnish the places where he lived. His previous house had only a mattress, a table, and chairs. He needed things to be perfect, and it took time to figure out what perfect was,” Malcolm Gladwell writes for The New Yorker. “This time, he had a wife and family in tow, but it made little difference. ‘We spoke about furniture in theory for eight years,’ his wife, Laurene Powell, tells Walter Isaacson, in ‘Steve Jobs,’ Isaacson’s enthralling new biography of the Apple founder. ‘We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?’'”

“It was the choice of a washing machine, however, that proved most vexing. European washing machines, Jobs discovered, used less detergent and less water than their American counterparts, and were easier on the clothes. But they took twice as long to complete a washing cycle,” Gladwell writes. “What should the family do? As Jobs explained, ‘We spent some time in our family talking about what’s the trade-off we want to make. We ended up talking a lot about design, but also about the values of our family. Did we care most about getting our wash done in an hour versus an hour and a half? Or did we care most about our clothes feeling really soft and lasting longer? Did we care about using a quarter of the water? We spent about two weeks talking about this every night at the dinner table.'”

Gladwell writes, “Steve Jobs, Isaacson’s biography makes clear, was a complicated and exhausting man. ‘There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy, and that’s the truth,’ Powell tells Isaacson. ‘You shouldn’t whitewash it.’ Isaacson, to his credit, does not.”

Much more in the full article – highly recommended – here.

MacDailyNews Take: Saint Laurene.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Nicholas C.” for the heads up.]

Related article:
Steve Jobs’ quest for perfection could make even buying a sofa into decade-long ordeal – October 25, 2011


  1. “He had the uncanny capacity to know exactly what your weak point is, know what will make you feel small, to make you cringe”

    Correct, but Jobs did not use that talent as much in the last couple of decades, or else he would not keep tens of co-workers for that many years around him, no matter how much he would pay to them, or how genius he would be otherwise.

  2. Also, Jobs did not just say the medical equipment is ugly; he spent serious time drawing and redesigning it.

    If Isaacson’s book fail to mentioned it, then it is another failure of the biographer.

    1. +1
      Mr. Isaacson appears to had some preconceived notion on what Steve was about, and set about proving that point.

      Much of what this ill conceived project/biography has managed to accomplish is fuel the clueless ones with blogs out there to speculate why someone like Mr. Jobs had achieved the fame and success. Oh the mystery!!!

      Meanwhile, let the backhanded compliments and snide jabs at the man continue, until a new generation may rediscover him anew. Buggers this lot.

      I remain convinced, the best bio of Steve remains in his oeuvre. If you can’t see something to appreciate in the man from his work, you aren’t likely to find it in words about his life.

      1. I read the book. Was neat to read the history of Steve and Apple. But, I feel it is a very shallow book. I think you could go through the archives of all the newspapers or magazine and pull stories to copy and paste into Isaacson’s biography.

        I was really hoping Mr. Isaacson would get down deep into Steve’s psyche. Why did Steve say that his experience with LSD was one of the top 2 or 3 most important things he did?

        Come on Walt, if this is all you have to give I think you blew fantastic chance to delve into the most exciting mind of our era. Do you have more that will be released later? I truly hope so.

  3. I understand what Steve Jobs was dealing with. I have similar frustrations when buying products. Most have stupid designs driven probably by the marketing and accounting people. We own a Whirlpool HE washer (top rated by Consumer Reports which is another story) that would drive a saint up the wall. What happened the machine designs we used to have that worked perfectly doing the main thing they are supposed to do, clean cloths.

    1. my advice on appliances. See what Bosch has, then grit your teeth and ante up what it takes to get one.
      We have dishwasher, front load washer and dryer, all from Bosch. Absolutely great products.

    2. Miele is what Steve ended up buying, I read on another site. And I agree with W.T.Effyall – I have a few of their products, and everything else is a joke. Even their slogan, “Immer Besser”, they translate into “Forever Better”. And it’s true. If Apple made appliances, these would be them.

  4. These issues have been noted before, but how they were resolved was not.

    My guess is that accommodations were reached and just how they were reached would be interesting to know as a clue to Steve’s ability to work together in a family.

  5. I bought my dishwasher, dryer, washing machine and microwave in the time it took to read this article. Of course I did some online research first but the actual process of deciding took 5 minutes.

    1. And he became “steve jobs”, and you “BLN”. Another man who shares that perfectionist philosophy became the greatest living industrial designer (possibly of all time, WDT notwithstanding) Another became head of the most valuable company in the world.

      Perhaps your methodology needs introspection, eh?

  6. SJ’s wife, Laura, reports that the family “Spent a lot of time asking ourselves, ‘What is the purpose of a sofa?'”

    So SJ-as-consumer exhibited the same qualities as SJ-as-designer: The product needs to match the needs of the buyer. Just accepting the conventional wisdom on the meaning of ‘sofa’ or ‘washing machine’ or ‘mobile phone’ isn’t the path to maximizing the customer’s experience.

  7. Steve had a good wife. She was aware of his faults and she accepted those faults from what I can tell in reading the bio.

    I hope all us dudes are lucky enough to have a partner like that in life. I know I am.

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