Nov 9, 2011 • Behavioral Economics, Businesses, Economic History, Innovation, Macroeconomic Measurement, Regulation, Thinking Economically • 215 Views    No Comments

Referring to Steve Jobs, most of us think of innovation and entrepreneurship. Like Thomas Friedman in “(Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” we imagine business starters and young Thomas Edisons.

Instead, in the New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that Jobs was a “tweaker.” The mouse and icons? Jobs saw a version at Xerox in 1979. The iPod? Music players were horrible. The iPhone? Jobs thought phones were as bad as music players used to be. You can see where this is going. Each time Steve Jobs and his designers “tweaked” someone else’s idea until the design satisfied him.

To meet a host of “tweakers,” here, you can read Andy Kessler’s wonderful history of technology. More academic, here is the study cited by Gladwell about the “tweakers” of the British Industrial Revolution

The Economic Lesson

Mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot (1924-2010) was the father of fractal geometry and the idea that the closer you look, the more you see. From a distance, the British coastline will appear straight. However, looking closer and closer increasingly reveals indents and zigzags. Consequently, Dr. Mandelbrot believed that it was actually much longer and even infinite.

Similarly, innovations can be incremental. Or, as Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”

An Economic Question: Knowing that innovation is important for economic growth, how could educators develop “tweakers?”

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