Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Going Back To The Liberal Arts Drives Real Growth Point

...that FLG is always harping on, and of which Steve Jobs is the ultimate example, Reihan has a post up on Jobs and John Sculley. Reihan highlights one reason John Sculley says Jobs is a great innovator:
3. No focus groups — “Steve said: ‘How can I possibly ask somebody what a graphics-based computer ought to be when they have no idea what a graphic based computer is? No one has ever seen one before.’ He believed that showing someone a calculator, for example, would not give them any indication as to where the computer was going to go because it was just too big a leap. ”

FLG thinks this exemplifies why a liberal arts degree is more important than an engineering degree. Liberal arts is primarily about learning what is meaningful to people. Engineering school isn't. In many ways, and FLG the former engineering student would know, it is contemptuous of what is meaningful to actual people.

For evidence, look at the user interface of an open source application. It's an afterthought at best. How to solve the problem in an elegant, efficient manner is what comes first.

Jobs, who FLG will be the first to admit is some sort of savant when it comes to knowing what people want, intuitively understands what is meaningful to people in a way that no liberal arts education will ever be able to reproduce. But the glimmer of what's important, the ability to understand science and technology and transform it into a solution that is meaningful to people is not something that engineers by virtue of their nature and education are very good at. It's more a task for liberal arts majors.

Microsoft would get a bunch of people together, describe the feature of the product, and then have a focus group. They'd run some sort of conjoint analysis, and arrive at a product. They do this because they are, and the company culture reflects, a bunch of geeks who have very little intuitive understanding of human beings. They kind of get business because many are data driven, but human beings? Not so much.

Apple, on the other hand, gets human beings. Not to say that they don't have focus groups or use metrics. But there's an intuitive sense of what people technology products will be meaningful to people that flows from Steve Jobs and affects the culture of the company.

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