Saturday, October 08, 2011

From Convenience to Consilience - “Technology Alone Is Not Enough"

Wikipedia defines Consilience as the unity of knowledge (literally a "jumping together" of knowledge), which has its roots in the ancient Greek concept of an intrinsic orderliness that governs our cosmos, inherently comprehensible by logical process.

The word appears in an appreciation of Steve Jobs by @jonahlehrer, published in the New Yorker on October 7th 2011.

What set all of Jobs’s companies apart, from Pixar to NeXT to Apple, was, indeed, an insistence that computer scientists must work together with artists and designers—that the best ideas emerge from the intersection of technology and the humanities. “One of the greatest achievements at Pixar was that we brought these two cultures together and got them working side by side,” Jobs said in 2003. ... Perhaps the clearest demonstration can be seen in the design of the Pixar campus. ...
Jobs realized, however, that it wasn’t enough to simply create a space: he needed to make people go there. As he saw it, the main challenge for Pixar was getting its different cultures to work together, forcing the computer geeks and cartoonists to collaborate. (John Lasseter, the chief creative officer at Pixar, describes the equation this way: “Technology inspires art, and art challenges the technology.”) In typical fashion, Jobs saw this as a design problem. ...
That emphasis on consilience, even if it came at the expense of convenience, has always been a defining trait of Steve Jobs. In an age of intellectual fragmentation, Jobs insisted that the best creations occurred when people from disparate fields were connected together, when our distinct ways of seeing the world were brought to bear on a singular problem. It’s what happens when a calligrapher designs a computer font and when an animator strikes up a conversation with a programmer at the bathroom sink. The Latin crest of Pixar University says it all: Alienus Non Diutius. Alone no longer.

Jonah Lehrer, Steve Jobs: “Technology Alone Is Not Enough” (New Yorker, 7 October 2011)

Steve Jobs was widely regarded as an outstanding product architect - someone with exceptional aesthetic sense and attention to detail. The creation of the iTunes ecosystem probably ranks as solution architecture rather than just product architecture. But Jonah's account emphasizes Job's exceptional ability as an enterprise architect - putting people and organizations together to achieve a classical unity of knowledge, which Jonah calls consilience. According to Jonah, it was his secret sauce.

Other commentators have said similar things. When Jobs finally resigned, John @Gruber stated that "Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself." (Daring Fireball, August 2011) Building on this statement, Horace Dediu (@asymco) invites other companies to copy how Apple harbors the creative process and the technology processes under the same roof. If that occurs, Jobs will have left a legacy not just on his own companies (Apple, Pixar) but on all companies. (Polymath Asymco August 2011, reposted as Steve Jobs's Ultimate Lesson for Companies HBR August 2011)

Related Posts

Steve Jobs was not a visionary (October 2011)
From Coincidensity to Consilience (January 2015)

Link updated 18 April 2015

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