The Origin Story of a Transformative Idea

Though author Steven Johnson’s idea of the ‘slow hunch’ is not intuitive at the outset, it holds up upon closer scrutiny. The technical processes behind innovation as articulated by Johnson are evident in the birth of Apple products. I would like to add to it the sociological and philosophical dimension.  Drawing upon the famous proverb ‘No man is an island’, oftentimes, innovations are the fruits of communities of people as opposed to one individual. The acknowledged innovator is only the beneficiary of all the ground work done by numerous predecessors. Although the latter group does not get the claim of ownership or patent to the idea, their vital role is lucidly illustrated by Steven Johnson. In his interviews and product launches, Steven Jobs implicitly acknowledges his indebtedness to those who enabled his innovations. I find this to be an important message for the society at large, for, far too often, individual egoism overwhelms the primacy of the community.  If only we understand the interconnectedness among individuals, strife and conflict would be substantially reduced in modern societies.

One of the reasons for the stupendous success of Apple products in general and iPhone in particular was their offer of unique features that are not part of other mobile devices.  Although Steve Jobs is the face representing these novel features, the whole company has to be credited for introducing one-of-its-kind pioneering products such as the iPhone. So much so that the Apple brand of products have come to attract a cult following. This fan following is for the feature rich and robust computers and gadgets. While most companies resort to the formula of gaining market share through increased operational efficiency of products, the Apple leadership sought a different method to improving market share.  Instead of introducing a product in an already existing market, they would introduce a new idea and create a niche market for it. For example the new portable Internet connectivity revolution is enabled by products such as the iPhone.  The device has set new technological standards. The iPhone is marked by its robust and smooth functioning.  Moreover, the hardware is specifically built to align with the software.  Hence it breaks down less frequently compared to peers from the same class.  This is the reason why iPhones have a large customer base. Almost every format of music or audio could be played in it.  It also offers high-speed Internet connectivity through wi-fi or telephone options. Steve Jobs deserves a great share of credit for this accomplishment. Unlike several other technology companies, design was the engine in Jobs’s philosophy. Designers

“were not injected as foreign organisms into the middle or end of the conceptual and engineering process, after the engineers and marketers did the meaningful work. Rather, designers were involved at the outset as equal creative partners. Form did not follow function; it was an integral part of the functional calculus. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s visionary product designer, didn’t just make boxes in which circuit boards and chips were tucked out of sight. He designed machines that were gateways to satisfying, and often ecstatic, user experiences.” (Heller, 2011)

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