In the wake of the tragically premature demise of Steve Jobs, it seems appropriate to ask: What can Canada learn about innovation from the career of Steve Jobs? I think there are two important lessons that we could take away.
The first lesson is that commercial success and impact is more about innovation than about invention. Invention is the creation of some new-to-the-world technology, molecule, material, or formula. It is typically the product of the curiosity of a scientist. It can be pretty earth-shattering when it is electricity or insulin. But it can be pretty irrelevant when it is a technology in search of a user.
Rotman’s recommendation, then, is to overhaul the traditional K-12 curriculum and “become the first nation on the planet to have universal education in innovation by explicitly and clearly teaching innovation in the primary and secondary school system.”
Well… let’s hear from Mr. Jobs himself, shall we? From the Stanford commencement address (emphasis mine):
And 17 years later I did go to college. […] And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on.
Let me give you one example. Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
(Full transcript here in comments.)
I guess there are all kinds of important lessons to be learned from this.