The following video of Steve Jobs, shot during the 1996 filming of “Triumph of the Nerds” has been getting a lot of traction today in light of Apple’s lawsuit against HTC for allegedly infringing on 20 of Apple’s patents.
In the video below, Jobs references a quote from Picasso and states, “Good artists copy, great artists steal. And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
Meanwhile, in Apple’s press release yesterday, Steve Jobs explained why Apple is suing HTC:
We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We’ve decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours.
So what’s the verdict, folks? Is Jobs a hypocrite? One minute he’s bragging about Apple’s penchant for stealing ideas and now he’s suing HTC for stealing Apple’s?
Or are we totally missing the thrust of what Jobs is getting at?
To figure that out, we’ll first have to drill down and figure out what exactly Picasso was trying to say.
Many artists have interpreted Picasso’s quote to mean that to copy a painting, for example, is to simply copy what you see without bringing your own perspective and original ideas to the table. What stealing refers to, however, is when you copy the inspiration that fueled the development of the original, but also infuse your own perspective and take on things into an entirely new creation.
Meanwhile, an old MacObserver post from 1999 sums up Picasso’s quote as used by Jobs thusly:
“Picasso hardly meant that great artists steal popular designs whose original source is known to everyone. What Picasso did mean was that great artists rummage through the great junk heap of lost, bypassed, and forgotten ideas to find the rare jewels, and then incorporate such languishing gems into their own personal artistic legacy.”
In other words, when Picasso and Jobs use the word “steal”, are they really referring to a “theft of concept“ as opposed to a theft of implementation (i.e copying)? Are we misconstruing the spirit of Jobs’ statement in an overzealous effort to label him a hippocrite, or are we pulling semantic hairs in an attempt to defend him?
We’ll go ahead and assert that the way Jobs intended the word “steal” to be interpreted in the video above and in the recent Apple press release are completely different. In the former, ‘steal’ seems to take on a more abstract definition, whereas in the latter, it seems to imply, you guessed it, flat out copying.
The following quote from Thomas Stephen is particularly insightful:
So, what do Picasso and T.S. Eliot mean? They say, in the briefest of terms: take old work to a new place. Steal the Google site, strip down what works (fast load, nonexistent graphics, small quirky changes that delight) and use the parts on your own site. Look at the curve of a Coke Bottle and create a beautiful landscape painting with it. Take the hairline pinstriping on the side of somebody’s car, reimagine it on your print job. Find inspiration in the world you live in, where nothing is truly new so that everything has the potential to be innovative.
Love him or hate him, but Steve Jobs genuinely cares about creating products that can change the world, and the folks at Apple undoubtedly derive their inspiration from the world at large – a fact abundantly clear anytime you hear Jonathan Ive talk about Apple’s design process. From Jobs perspective, the same apparently can’t be said about HTC.