November 7, 2011

"We spent a lot of time asking ourselves, 'What is the purpose of a sofa?'"

Malcolm Gladwell quotes Walter Isaacson quoting Laurene Powell quoting her husband Steve Jobs.

Powell lived with her fabulously wealthy husband in a house often mostly devoid of furniture, because he didn't want his space infiltrated with anything he didn't feel perfectly sure of.

It would be hard to get fabulously wealthy if all consumers were so resistant to purchasing, but it might be a good attitude for individual consumers to adopt. Especially if you live alone. It's great to appreciate the open, uncluttered space you have and to save your money. But if you live with someone else, she'd better share or at least love that attitude, because if those empty spaces are perceived as deprivations, it's going to hurt — especially if she breaks away and taps into that pile of money you kept instead of blowing on upholstered merchandise.

And then there's the pristine space that is the inside of your body. You can be very fussy about what you let in there, and you can wait and wait until your sure it's exactly right, and then what? From the Isaacson biography:
To the horror of his friends and wife, Jobs decided not to have surgery to remove the tumor, which was the only accepted medical approach. “I really didn’t want them to open up my body...” he told me years later with a hint of regret....

“The big thing was that he really was not ready to open his body,” Powell recalled. “It’s hard to push someone to do that.”
I love the default position of doing nothing. First, do no harm. That's a fine aphorism. A saying I made up that I've relied on for decades and care about immensely is: Better than nothing is a high standard. But it's not such a high standard that it's only beaten by perfection. Perfect is the enemy of good. Now, there's a great saying. Get the cancer surgery that saves your life. And if your wife wants a sofa and she can't explain exactly why... you'd better think about it. Empty space can get really empty.

57 comments:

Mike said...

Look at it this way. She can now buy all the sofas she wants. But if you ask her whether she'd rather have the sofas or her deceased husband, we all might be surprised at the answer.

traditionalguy said...

Perfection is inhumane.

Jobs therefore was inhumane. He wanted more than humans were capable of being...but maybe a perfect computer product can take their place.

He also did not like imperfect medicine that uses surgery, so he demanded a more perfect cure...oops, should have gone with human doctors.

PatCA said...

It is indeed quite a shock when a doctor says, oh, we have to open you up and redo this and take out that. Tomorrow morning. Cancer.

But wait, I have not planned for this! I have to start the reno next week!

Most of us then go ahead and offer our bodies up in ambivalent trust to that doctor.

Sadly, Jobs enjoyed a lifetime of success based on resisting conventional wisdom that led him to a different decision.

Ann Althouse said...

@Mike If she'd been able to argue against his obsession with perfection, he would be alive.

Sofa King said...

Sofas are actually very useful. I should know, after all.

David said...

A sofa is a savings bank.

Ann Althouse said...

@ Sofa King I only recently noticed the pun of your name. Nicely played. Sofa King good.

MikeR said...

Lots of weird stories coming out now about this guy. Are all geniuses subhuman in other ways? Google Paul Erdos, and Erdos Number.

Paul Zrimsek said...

She was probably so busy trying in vain to explain the purpose of a shower that there was no time left over for sofas.

edutcher said...

The Blonde and I love sofas.

As for Jobs, again, brilliant jerk.

The Blonde will tell you, if it's cancer, get it treated early. If you wait for the surgery, you're dead, only because, once they open you up and the air hits it, the cancer will spread like mad.

Kit said...

Rational reasoning is no match for someone with an obsession.

cassandra lite said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cassandra lite said...

"But if you live with someone else, she'd better share or at least love that attitude..."

Well, if the person you live with is "fabulously wealthy," you could probably learn to love.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Jobs evidently took his obsessive compulsive personality to some extremes and seems a bit more than just odd.

However, I don't see anything at all unusual about the washing machine story. When buying any appliance or automobile or electronic appliance why wouldn't you calculate the cost/benefit to yourself and include time as well as esthetics into that calculation?

That's what I always do before deciding what to buy or whether to buy or replace items. How much does it cost. Cost to run. Life of the product. Benefit of the various models. What is the desired outcome or result of owning the item.

Sure.... you don't want to bring that decision tree down to everything in your life because you will become bogged down in detail (as Jobs seems to have done) and never enjoy impulse purchases or impulse decisions or be able to learn from disastrous decisions.

However, if you don't use this process on the big decisions, you will end up wasting time, money and resources.

I just seems normal to me.

Canuck said...

Yep.

Do know harm is a great idea.

But doing nothing in a crisis is a bad idea.

Cancer is a crisis.

Michael said...

I am a chair guy myself but I am also intrigued by modern architecture and zen-like spaces. I always wonder where people put their shit in those lovely modern houses that are pristine and angular with their lack of knickknacks and books and pictures and comfortable looking furniture. I always imagine that there is a back room where the family lives, a room filled with books and pictures and chintz and upholstered furniture and leather foot stools and wide screen t.v. sets.

fleetusa said...

Great comments from AA in last paragraph....as usual, she is often better than the articles cited.

gerry said...

because he didn't want his space infiltrated with anything he didn't feel perfectly sure of.

Wow. So, was he obsessive-compulsive or paranoid? I lost my amateur-remote-psychology certificate some time ago (and what a court battle that was!), so can someone help me here?

Canuck said...

eeep!

Do no harm, not "know."

time for more coffee.

Rose said...

The extreme irony of a man who brought high tech advancement and innovation to the world, and yet was afraid to allow medical advancements and innovation to save his life... it's sadly tragic in its way.

Surgery now is not exactly a dull knife and massive scar tissue. It's precise, and clean and targeted. Had he been able to ride through the wave of fear, and come out on the other side, he might still be with us today.

virgil xenophon said...

"Rational reasoning is no match for someone with an obsession."

The perfect quote for a morning when the headlines tell us that an Iran obsessed with wiping Israel off the face of the Earth is about to go nuclear and everybody is wondering what can be done to stop them. The stubborn resistance/attitude Steve Jobs took toward his cancer treatment providing the perfect example of the impossibility of successfully deterring ideologues with anything other than direct action. If Job's wife had knocked him unconscious with a table lamp (assuming they had lamps & tables, lol) and trundled him off to surgery he might still be alive today..

The Elder said...

Doing nothing is itself an act and the result a decision -- a choice -- that has been made. Jobs made his decision, although he came to regret it later.

The passage of time most often produces new choices to be made under new circumstances.

Isn't it fun to be human?

Mark Nielsen said...

MikeR: "Lots of weird stories coming out now about this guy. Are all geniuses subhuman in other ways? Google Paul Erdos, and Erdos Number."

I met Paul Erdos a couple of times, and have an Erdos number of 2. There was really nothing admirable about him, in my opinion. Admiration should be reserved for a well-lived and well-balanced life. His was neither.

pm317 said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...

@Mike If she'd been able to argue against his obsession with perfection, he would be alive.
------------------

If she had been able to argue -- that would assume a lot of courage and independence on her part not to mention not being in awe of this billionnare and being critical of his most successful trait, perfection. It was not an obsession but more a skill to be more perfect than his peers. That was his ticket to fame and fortune -- so why would she want to try to change that?

pm317 said...

Gladwell article is fine in shining light on tweakers in history and giving new context for who Jobs might have been. It is lame though on how Gladwell tries to defend Gates towards the end of the article. Gates is boring, just like the product he has tried to sell for decades now. Just now at our heldesk, a student staff was asking 'how do you do a 'tail' in windows? I have a xxx meg log file'.. Jobs was a master of masters. Gates is the master for mediocre.

Pogo said...

Jobs:Mozart::Gates:Salieri

Curious George said...

So I should quit waiting for the iSofa 1.0 and just go over to Steinhafels...

Kit said...

Doing nothing is itself an act and the result a decision -- a choice -- that has been made. Jobs made his decision, although he came to regret it later.

The passage of time most often produces new choices to be made under new circumstances.


I agree 100%. Regret is nothing but self-indulgent self-pity. It gets you nowhere except for the opportunity for you to see that you're only human.

KenK said...

I never realized what a mentally unstable and contentious asshole Jobs could be.

SGT Ted said...

A logging truck with a full load is barreling your way, horn blowing and your response is:

1. Get out of the way.

or

2. Complain about having to get out of the way and assert that you aren't ready to move yet.

Choose wisely.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

When the doctor said "Surgery" I said "When"? I didn't even think about it. Ten years later I'm doing fine. I think I'm smarter than Steve Jobs.

cubanbob said...

I haven't read the book so I can't comment on it. However judging from the excerpts posted by Ann the only conclusion is that besides being mortal and flawed like all of us is that Jobs was a fool in only the way of a brilliant and powerful and arrogant man could be.

Why bother going to professionals if you are not going to take their advice? Sad to say, Jobs probably knew he screwed up big time before he died and cheated himself out of quit a few good years of living. But then again, you can't keep a fool from his folly.

MikeR said...

"I met Paul Erdos a couple of times, and have an Erdos number of 2. There was really nothing admirable about him, in my opinion. Admiration should be reserved for a well-lived and well-balanced life. His was neither."

And Steve Jobs?

Robert Cook said...

"The perfect quote for a morning when the headlines tell us that an Iran obsessed with wiping Israel off the face of the Earth is about to go nuclear...."

Do you believe everything the headlines tell you?

You sound like you're quoting John Bolton or Hillary Clinton or some other bellicose, agenda-driven untrustworthy source.

jamboree said...

Okay, I'll play.

A couch is something to hold the pillows that will cradle your butt several feet off the ground so that you aren't wallowing about the well-trod floor like an animal.

Regarding the disinclination towards surgery: if they haven't covered it in the book, apple devices have always been notoriously closed and adverse to being opened, expanded, or tampered with in any way. It's harder to do (than PCs), you voided the warranty, etc.

jamboree said...

Actually *Steve's* devices were notoriously hard to open. I believe back in the Woz days, his machines were more expandable.

Triangle Man said...

So I should quit waiting for the iSofa 1.0 and just go over to Steinhafels...

Wait it out. It will be epic!

jamboree said...

Steve Jobs first came to my attention in a Wired article in about 1995 or 1996 before he went back to Apple. I had been living in LA and desperately needed a break from the inherent skeeviness of the Industry.

The article had a quote from him along the lines of this couch issue, that he and Laurene had been in the market for a new washing machine and sat around the dinner table discussing the purchase "as a family" for weeks.

This just cracked me up. Here's this rich, attractive guy with attitude and he enjoys sitting around the dinner table deriving the essence of washing machines "as a family".

I found it quite refreshing, really, assuming it was true and it looks like it was. He could have been skeeving about in Thailand with bags of cocaine and 10-yr-old boys, you know?

Rick Lockridge said...

Jamboree, that's a really good point. Neither my inaccessible macbook battery nor my inaccesible iPhone battery can get me through a workday. Why was Jobs obsessed with not letting me open up his perfect enclosures? Now we at least have some insight.

tree hugging sister said...

He sure didn't mind taking the liver that might have saved someone else, even though he'd doomed himself already.

I wonder if that liver would even have been given to an "everyman" who actually BEEN next in line and made the same cancer decision Jobs made. I'm sure they would have told him to fuck off, he'd made his bed and given it to someone who wanted to LIVE.

Boy, that pisses me off, "genius who made pretty, useful things" or not.

rick said...

Jobs was too smart by half. Overconfident in all his positions. The last one did him in.

ws4whgfb said...

". “I really didn’t want them to open up my body...”

He also didn't want to make his computer systems open either. The latest example is the ipad/ipod where you can only buy software approved by apple.

That is totally weird. They say genius is akin to insanity. Maybe so.

Spread Eagle said...

In the 1960s I found most of the anti-war movement --and later its 2000s incarnation-- to suffer mightily under the Perfect is the Enemy of Good analysis.

Ralph L said...

"We spent a lot of time standing around...."

Sofa King good
Not if someone's faking.

Spread Eagle said...

Lots of weird stories coming out now about this guy.

I also recently read the Isaacson biography. A GREAT read. Shows Jobs for what he was, warts and all. But I came away from it being in many ways considerably more impressed with Jobs than I was beforehand, mainly with his focus, intensity, and drive. Say what you want about him, but the man was relentless. And by all accounts he didn't do it for the money (although he became very wealthy along the way). He did it for his own internalized sense of purity.

Ralph L said...

A couch is something to hold the pillows that will cradle your butt several feet off the ground
A coach, also, but those aren't pillows.

Alex said...

He also didn't want to make his computer systems open either. The latest example is the ipad/ipod where you can only buy software approved by apple.

Yet there are 250 million iOS devices in the world. I guess most people don't care about opening up the thing.

Curious George said...

"Alex said...
Yet there are 250 million iOS devices in the world. I guess most people don't care about opening up the thing."

And the people in Jonestown didn't care what was in the Kool-Aid.

ricpic said...

The perfect is the enemy of the good.

And once that truth has genuinely been internalized a person can never again seriously entertain a single proposal emanating from the utopian Left. Which makes Althouse's possible second vote for Obama a thing of wonder. Of course the answer is that Obama isn't a pure leftist. No, he's triangulating between the insane freak Stalinist/Cookie Left and the Reid/Pelosi/garage scary clown Left, har har har.

Robert Cook said...

Most people are not techies and do not want to have to get inside the guts of their computers or other devices to make them work, just as most people are not hot rodders or car hobbyists who want to get inside the engines (and exteriors) of their cars to make them something other (and more) than what came off the assembly line.

Most people want their computers to work like radios or tvs or toaster ovens: you plug 'em in and you turn 'em on and you push a button or two and they produce the desired output.

Jobs had this quite obvious insight early on and worked toward this sort of transparent functionality from the start. Tech geeks who sneer at the "closed system" of Apple devices are latter day hot rodders who do not understand their passion for tinkering is not shared by most users of computers and related devices.

Kirk Parker said...

pm317,

"Just now at our heldesk..."

That has my vote for typo of the [your favorite time period here]!

Kirk Parker said...

"Empty space can get really *empty*."

Once upon a time, we bought a couch and chair set from Costco (queue all the "did you have to buy it in packages of 6?" jokes...) After about 6 months one of the seams in the couch started to separate, so we just took it back (no-questions asked return policies are great, and anyway it clearly was a manufacturing defect.)

But picking out a replacement was a lot of work, as was picking out the returned one in the first place, so days stretched into weeks into a month and a half...

My wife did kinda enjoy the lack of clutter. For my part, I didn't care about that, but was starting to lobby to keep it that way for a while longer just for the entertainment value.

You see, our two oldest were in 9th and 7th grade at the time, and it was a great source of (poker-faced) amusement to us to have some friend of theirs come over for the first time since the emptying of the living room, see them do a double-take, and then conceal their surprise and say nothing about it. I suppose there were rumors around down about us about to be foreclosed on or something... :-)

Coketown said...

For anyone who's interested, and lives near a major metropolitan area, there will be screenings of a 'lost' Steve Jobs interview from 1995 on November 16th and 17th. Here's some details. The interview was taped for a PBS special and ran for 70 minutes, but only 10 minutes of footage was aired, and the tape was assumed lost until some guy in the UK found a copy recently.

glenn said...

The part about not opening his body proves that you can be really smart about somethings and dumb as a stone about others. And Steve, guess what, you're still dead. Not almost dead, or partly dead but really really really dead. Forever.

Carol_Herman said...

Steve Jobs didn't bathe!

He also walked barefoot.

At Apple someone told him he smelled very bad, and at least he should wash his feet.

So he stuck his feet (one by one) into the toilet bowl.

The only thing about Steve Jobs is that he was spectacularly good looking.

So was Marlon Brando (in his 20's.) And, he'd bet people he went to dinner with ... that he could get the waitress to screw him THAT NIGHT!

How does that happen?

FANTASIES.

You meet someone who scampers in your fantasies.

But it takes a very strong stomach to stay!

Oh, yeah. And, Steve Jobs ENJOYED being weird! He loved the affect it had on people!

If he had added furniture ... you might have thought if you got invited into his house ... that you could sit down and relax!

As to the name "APPLE" ... the man thought he was like Adam. And, the APPLE WAS EVIL!

Steve Jobs was a very sick man, before he got cancer!

At least, now, I can see WHY he got fired!

As to the company's success?

Apple had few distributors. They all pocketed huge profits! And, unlike Microsoft, who allowed others to develop applications for the Microsoft platform ... Jobs was so stingy ... he held to different criteria.

I pity his wife. And, I pity their kids!

Tari said...

Goes to show that you can overthink the hell out of decisions and still make the wrong ones, doesn't it?

I admired the man's creativity, but would I have wanted to spend 5 minutes with him? Nope.

Nora said...

Job is to technology what Warwhol was to pop art, i.e. a clever marketer rather than generator of original ideas. I suspect that much of his pecularities were more of the pose than anything else. However, success lends itself to myth creation, as well as to many parazites feeding on it, like jornos, biographers, etc, who are interested in maintaining the myth.