By Cindy Ivanac-Lillig
Steve Jobs’ Apple created extraordinary products we use every day. They are extraordinary not simply because we all use them. After all, we all use toasters at home too. What’s extraordinary is that people have an emotional reaction to Jobs’ products. There is something visceral and emotional in using a powerful tool that connects you to work, friends, and the community – and looks and feels like art. I think the secret of Jobs’ success was that he created a way for virtually everyone to own art – the same art that he, a billion-dollar CEO, coveted.
My take on the phenomenon of Apple is probably not unique, and we may even see something similar written in an economic textbook someday under the title of Innovation. However, I’d like to raise what I think is a more important point: When Jobs’ biographer, Walter Isaacson, asked him if there was any one product that he was most proud or liked best, Jobs instead answered that he was most proud of the company itself.
Think about that. Maybe the products aren’t the real extraordinary innovations here. It’s true that much of the technology existed before Apple ever manipulated it. Maybe the real innovation is Apple, Inc. Maybe the company itself and how it works is an innovation, one that is still in the process of helping build the foundation of our creative economy. Consider this definition of the creative economy as described by the United Nations Development Program:
“…creative economy…has emerged as a means of focusing attention on the role of creativity as a force in contemporary economic life, embodying the proposition that economic and cultural development are not separate or unrelated phenomena but part of a larger process of sustainable development in which both economic and cultural growth can occur hand in hand.”
If you agree the role of creativity is increasingly important in our economy and our development, the question becomes how we can foster its development. Dr. Benjamin Olshin delivered a paper to the Philadelphia Academies in 2006 that discussed creativity as a process and not simply as an individual thinking “out-of-the-box”:
“In business, when a new product or service is introduced, or in academic institutions when new curricula or policies are discussed, there is often the idea that a simple roundtable discussion or a committee will generate a creative idea…. These failures come from the inability to see that the creative, innovative ideas that society needs are the result of a process…Only through a process can the input of creative people be fully understood and fully utilized.”
Apple seems to have a process that does something special: It allows the input of creative people to be fully utilized. This creative process led to a company that was worth more than Exxon Mobile last year. Let’s learn more about this process and look beyond the cool products. New paradigm shifts in business and technology inevitably require a change in paradigm in other fields, especially education and economic policy.
Maybe in a few years we won’t be described as a service economy but a creative economy. And to borrow Steve Jobs’ famous phrase, if we can get this right, maybe we will have an “insanely great” creative economy.
What do you think?