The Beatles of our time is… Apple?

At the New Yorker’s TechFest 2017, editor David Remnick sat down with Apple’s Jony Ive and popped the Lennon-McCartney question.

From AppleInsider’s transcript of a noisy audio file:

DAVD REMNICK: So, what was the Lennon-McCartney breakthrough with you. In other words you get in the room with him and you find some common language. Lennon and McCartney somehow had this mix of talents, one more raw, more cynical, the other one coming out of the British dancehall tradition, and somehow the next thing you know they’re revolutionaries together.

And I know you want to make sure that Steve Jobs is the singular figure in this. OK, OK. But you have pretty damn big role here. How did you—what was the specificity of the relationship because I get the feeling it wasn’t him saying, make this and come back later.

JONY IVE: Oh no, no, we—I mean, I’ve never quite had this experience before, and I’ve not had it since. But we, on first meeting, in a quite shocking way, really didn’t click. So I mean, we just established an immediate understanding.

REMNICK: What was said? Where was it? What was it like?

IVE: He came to the design studio, and he realized that there was this huge disconnect between the work we were doing and work that Apple was shipping. And he made the observation and articulated his observation with saying how incredibly ineffective I’d been.

(LAUGHTER)

And he was completely right. As the head of design I’d been ultimately completely ineffective, and been making models that you could dust. That was it. But I think…

REMNICK: Were you offended? Were you upset when he said this?

IVE: Oh, no. The truth was very—it was—it’s sort of hard to hear, but somehow the situation was harder than his words, because I moved from London to join this group of hippies in California, and I thought there was something very special about the company.

And I was working for a consultant where you are just designing, but in a way that’s so removed from a set of values. I was very invested in this company, and it broke my heart’s watching it drift into irrelevance.

But, I think, I mean to your question of how we got on, I mean, we became very close friends. We would go on holiday together, and we would work together pretty much every day. We’d have lunch every day and spent a chunk of the afternoon.

But I think there is something—I am still intrigued by this, which is that there’s just something about the creative process that I still find remarkable, that you know, on the Tuesday there’s not an idea. It’s just Tuesday. And on Wednesday, there’s an idea. And it starts—invariably starts as a very tentative and fragile thought. And I think nearly always it’s a thought that one of us would have, and it’s so nebulous that the ability to try and describe it and communicate it is very important and formative to that idea. And I think that’s why our relationship and our ability to somehow sense in an almost pre-verbal way, was fundamental to—to the work that we did.

And the—I still love that how, you know, you can have a thought that is so fragile that can become something so powerful, and I’m in awe and I still can’t—I feel so grateful that I can—I can participate in this process.

My take: Among several poignant exchanges in this 30-minute interview, Ive’s description of his long collaboration with Steve Jobs is my favorite. Ive gets close to something real when talks about the fragility of ideas. Remember his remarks at Steve Jobs’ memorial?

Steve used to say to me — and he used to say this a lot — “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.”

And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.

And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

It took me some time to process Steve Jobs’ death. It was a little like the day John Lennon was shot. I think it wasn’t until I heard Ive talk about Jobs’ dopey ideas that I truly felt the depth of the loss.

5 Comments

  1. Richard Wanderman said:

    The thing that many of these reminiscences miss is that Jobs was both extremely creative and had an ability to recognize great ideas, even in raw form, and in a position to bet the company on an idea that might not be initially popular. This led to taking more risks and some of those risks paid off in a big way (and some didn’t).

    I wonder what Apple would look like today if Jobs was still running it? Different? If so, how?

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    October 8, 2017
  2. John Kirk said:

    Jony Ive’s comments at Steve Jobs’ memorial are one of my favorite quotes on both creativity and Steve Jobs.

    First, creativity is not a lightbulb. It’s a flickering candle that can be snuffed out at the slightest breath of criticism.Jony Ive often talks about how it is his job, not so much to create ideas, but to protect them.

    Second, Steve Jobs was always so confident — perhaps brash would be a better word — when he addressed the world outside of Apple. Yet I can totally see him saying: “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.” It’s the part of Jobs that few got to see. And it is, perhaps, the part of Jobs that I admire most.

    4
    October 8, 2017
    • Jonny Tilney said:

      Nicely said John, and good piece PED.

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      October 8, 2017
    • David Drinkwater said:

      Dear Quote Investigator: The classic phrase that is supposed to be uttered by a scientist when he makes a major discovery is “Eureka!” That was the famous cry of the ancient Greek sage Archimedes. But the prominent science fiction writer Isaac Asimov insightfully noted that the actual remark preceding a breakthrough probably reflected surprise and uncertainty such as:

      “That’s odd.”
      “That’s funny.”
      “Hey, wait a minute.”

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/quoteinvestigator.com/2015/03/02/eureka-funny/amp/

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      October 9, 2017

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