The Monitor's View

How to honor Steve Jobs

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs left a model of collaborative innovation that others can follow in creating wholly new products and services that will boost the economy.

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Many who love Apple products will probably always remember the moment they learned of Steve Jobs’s passing. But here’s another way to recall that day: He died just as a Nobel Prize was being awarded to scientists who discovered that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate.

Mr. Jobs’s legacy is that he accelerated the quality of life on earth. And it is not only because of his material inventions, such as the iPod or Mac computers, or his innovations in services, such as iTunes or smart phone apps.

He was mostly a model in openness to ideas that no one had ever dreamed of. Undiscovered ideas were limitless to him, only to be plucked by expanding one’s vision and then working with others to make them real.

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He didn’t merely solve problems, build a better mousetrap, or invent what his marketing folks told him people wanted. He learned to stretch his thinking, and by doing so stretched ours.

Jobs was America’s best example of a jobs engine. His company defied the recent recession by dint of vision, innovation, collaboration, and oh-so-cool design.

To really honor him, Americans could better learn how to innovate their way out of this economic slump. Wealth creation relies on coming up with services or products that people end up “needing” and then can’t remember life without. Those same people will strive harder to be educated, find work, and save money to buy those “necessities,” thus driving the economy.

Akio Morita, the founder of Sony, used to bemoan the fact that his company never quite re-created the market thrill of the Walkman, the iPod’s precursor. He said Japan, still in a long slump, had much to learn from America’s innovation-oriented society.

Jobs never had to worry about the Next Big Thing. He created an entrepreneurial culture around him, as many companies and cities now try to do. He welcomed diversity, especially in the form of foreign-born techies. He used the patent system (thankfully, now just reformed) to provide incentives for original creativity.

He had confidence that the United States is better off with $100,000-plus jobs in creating high-tech ideas than trying to compete with $2-an-hour workers in Asia merely assembling products like the iPad.

Rather than mourn the loss of Steve Jobs, America can sustain his model of collaborative innovation.

Call it iJobs 2.0.

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