Steve Jobs More ‘Tweaker’ Than Inventor, Gladwell Says

Does it seem to anyone else that Steve Jobs has incurred more posthumous quasi-dissing than any other similar figure in recent memory?

The man who brought us the iPhone, iPod and iPad was revered by many as a hero and pillar of technical innovation in the days after his death, but his legacy has not been without criticism. Malcolm Gladwell- the author of influential books The Tipping Point and Blink– has weighed in on Jobs’ contribution to the world of technology, and Gladwell has used his keen eye for classification and coining to present a novel analysis of Jobs.

Gladwell maintains that Jobs’ (who he calls a “complicated and exhausting man”) biggest strength was not necessarily in innovation, but in editing. The author fleshes this out with an anecdote about Jobs’ experience in trying to decide between a faster, cheaper American washing machine and a gentler, more eco-conscious European one. He quotes Jobs:

“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 points to another big tweak of Jobs’- a Microsoft concept of a tablet that inspired the iPad- before launching into another about the core esthetics of Mac:

He looked at the title bars—the headers that run across the top of windows and documents—that his team of software developers had designed for the original Macintosh and decided he didn’t like them. He forced the developers to do another version, and then another, about twenty iterations in all, insisting on one tiny tweak after another, and when the developers protested that they had better things to do he shouted, “Can you imagine looking at that every day? It’s not just a little thing. It’s something we have to do right.”

You can read Gladwell’s entire piece over at the New Yorker. Do you think Steve Jobs has been over or underappreciated?