Tim Cook on Creativity at Apple

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"Creativity is not a process, right?"

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"Mostly it's Foo Fighters-powered," Cook said. Ok. No, he didn't (Reuters).

Bloomberg Businessweek has a loooong interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook. There's a lot of meat, too. The magazine's editor, Josh Tyrangiel, did the Q&A, and it has several interesting dimensions (including why Cook is talking to reporters at all).

What makes Apple special is that they create category-defining products. Even if their competitors have some key advantages (like Google's data or Amazon's online retail game), Apple's actual creative output is superior by most standards. At the very least, you have to say their execution of media and touchscreen devices has been visionary and tech path altering. And keep in mind, this is a monster company, a huge place. How can they keep cranking out the hits? 

To that point, my favorite piece of the interview was when Cook took on how and why Apple comes up with consistently interesting, sometimes truly radical products.

Creativity is not a process, right? It's people who care enough to keep thinking about something until they find the simplest way to do it. They keep thinking about something until they find the best way to do it. It's caring enough to call the person who works over in this other area, because you think the two of you can do something fantastic that hasn't been thought of before. It's providing an environment where that feeds off each other and grows.

So just to be clear, I wouldn't call that a process. Creativity and innovation are something you can't flowchart out. Some things you can, and we do, and we're very disciplined in those areas. But creativity isn't one of those.

While Cook mostly defines his vision of creativity against prevailing models and hopes (i.e. that you could simply put in the right corporate structure and... INNOVATION!), he does provide a positive vision that's quite unusual. For Cook, creativity is about relentlessness. It is about people who "keep thinking" (a phrase he repeats) until they get it exactly right.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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