Thursday, November 10, 2011


Malcolm Gladwell writes about Steve Jobs as "The Tweaker" in this week's New Yorker.  Gladwell takes off from a recent paper by Meisenzahl and Mokyr who write about the industrial revolution in Great Britain.  M&M show that the scientists, the engineers and the highly talented craftspeople happened to all be on hand in abundance.  All of them were required to make it all happen, not just the well known visionaries and their macro-inventions.

My "shop" classes in high school are some of my favorite memories, even though I was never destined to be any good at these crafts.  My fear is that we no longer have enough "shop" or enough apprenticeship opportunities.

Gladwell's point is that Steve Jobs' success is explained by the fact that he was as an obsessive tweaker.

But there is some of the tweaker in all of us.  I can tweak text and powerpoints all night long.  We all adopt different stopping rules.  In theory, we set marginal this to marginal that -- and find the best stopping point.  But it is really the expected marginal costs and benefits of further work (or search).  These involve forecasts.

So it is not a question of who is the most obessive tweaker.  Rather, it is about who forecasts best re what the extra hour of tweaking will get us vs. what it will cost us.