Do Jerks Make Better Innovators?

Ann All

If there's one thing Steve Jobs isn't interested in, it's consensus. From the early days of the Mac to his recent vocal disapproval of Flash, Jobs stays true to his vision like few other figures in the technology industry. It's hard to imagine Jobs putting much stock into customer communities like Dell's IdeaStorm or any other variants of crowdsourcing. That kind of collaboration is based on giving everyone a say.


At just 26, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg hasn't built up the mythologized reputation Jobs has, but he operates in much the same single-minded way. Which is why, like Jobs, he'll likely be known as a great innovator. Ignoring the Web 2.0 mandate to collaborate, collaborate and more collaborate some more is the best way to get things done, says Henry Blodgett on Business Insider. He writes:

If Facebook were to radically change its approach to innovation, meanwhile, seeking prior approval for every change it makes, its innovation would slow to a crawl. It would also sacrifice the opportunity to roll out innovations that initially freak people out but that soon become wildly popular (News Feed). Given that Facebook's whole product is walking this ever-flammable line between public and private, Facebook's users won't likely know what they're cool with until they see it in action. So asking them ahead of time would just lead to a lot of "no's," even with respect to innovations that people would eventually want.

So do you have to be a self-centered jerk to be a great innovator? Maybe. Michael Arrington makes much the same point on TechCrunch, writing:

Product should be a dictatorship. Not consensus driven. There are casualties. Hurt feelings. Angry users. But all of those things are necessary if you're going to create something unique.

Still, even Apple appears to at least recognize the power of collaboration. While Apple has been notoriously heavy-handed in its efforts to control the developers creating applications for the iPhone, the existence of an App Store offering third-party applications on an Apple device would have been inconceivable in the very near past.


And as the innovation focus shifts from product to services, companies may find they'll need consensus after all.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
May 24, 2010 10:06 AM Mike Mike  says:

I'd answer, "Never," based on my experience and what I've learned from others. I've experienced where the power of teams results in much better product, never the converse. Jobs may be opinionated, but, as you point out, he does know he needs to go beyond himself for ideas. Apple's biggest success since forever has a Tony Fadell to thank. As for some guy who launched a social network, I don't see how that marks him as a "better innovator". Isn't it accepted that he stole another's idea? It's rather funny that he responded today to say they screwed up in NOT listening to the users. If a jerk he is, then fear is quite the conversion tool. Regardless, what's he or a couple writers with similar opinions have on Edison and his Invention Factory? A power of one isn't much power; too many players and you're bound to get inefficient without the right team and system in place. Balance, I think, is key. Jerks don't bring enough to the party to offset their ability to drain creativity from a room.


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