Innovation works in mysterious ways
Was it salesmanship or engineering? Creativity or ruthlessness? Or was Steve Jobs simply gifted with vision and impeccable taste? Whatever the true source of his success, there was more than a touch of genius about Jobs. Even his side project, Pixar, was an astounding achievement. His first love, Apple, he built from nothing and then dragged back from the brink to make it the most valuable company in the world. No wonder so many of us felt sad at the news of his passing: surely he had more to offer.
I spend my life in front of a computer, and that life is better because of what Steve Jobs created. But here's the strange thing: I've never owned an Apple product for longer than the two weeks it took to give up and send it back. (Apple's customer returns department is impeccable, by the way.) My Macbook Air? Glorious hardware, but fussy software and a counterintuitive interface. My iPad? Beautiful – but also heavy, not too fond of wireless, and refused even to turn on until I did some most impertinent things to my Windows laptop.
我每天的生活都是在電腦前度過的，是喬布斯的諸多創造讓我的生活更美好。但奇怪之處在於：我擁有蘋果產品的時間從沒有超過兩週，兩週時間已足以讓我放棄，並把它退還給蘋果公司了。 （順便說一下，蘋果公司的顧客退貨部也是讓人無可挑剔！）我的Macbook Air？硬件炫極了，可軟件有些花里胡哨，界面也不夠直觀。我的iPad？華麗得很，可它太重了，不太喜歡無線網絡，而且直到我在Windows筆記本電腦上進行了一些極其荒謬的操作之後，它才可以開機。
Apple never made a penny from me. Why, then, do I say that Steve Jobs improved my life? It's because I am surrounded by technology that looks good and works well because others followed where Apple led. Without Apple's refinement and popularisation of the WIMP environment (window, icon, menu and pointer), how long would we have waited for a graphic interface from Microsoft – and how awful might it have been? It's hard to imagine Bill Gates would have shown much interest in fonts without Apple's beautiful typography. Beyond desktop computers, there's a similar story to tell: I own an Android phone that owes more than a passing debt to the iPhone; I'm still waiting to own a Windows machine to rival the Mac Air; and every tablet in the world bows to the iPad.
蘋果從來沒有從我身上賺到過一分錢。那麼，為什麼我要說史蒂夫•喬布斯改善了我的生活呢？理由是，我被各種外觀出色效率出眾的技術所圍繞，正是因為其它公司都在追隨蘋果的腳步。若不是蘋果對WIMP（窗口、圖標、菜單和光標）環境的改進和推廣，我們不知要多久才能等到微軟(Microsoft)的圖形界面——那會是多麼可怕的一種情形啊！很難想像，要不是因為蘋果的漂亮字體，比爾•蓋茨(Bill Gates)會對字體產生多大的興趣。除了台式機以外，我還有類似的經歷告訴大家：我有一部Android手機，它欠iPhone的可不止一星半點；我還在期待可以擁有一台能與Mac Air相媲美的Windows筆記本；還有，世界上的每一台平板電腦都應該向iPad致以敬意。
To an economist the lesson is obvious: innovative profits are imperfectly appropriable. In more user-friendly language: when an entrepreneur bakes a cake, he only gets to keep a thin slice for himself. This is worrying if it discourages innovation, and in some industries innovators may be discouraged by the prospect that they must take big risks and sink big costs while society sits back and hopes to reap the benefits. Yet in the computer industry, plenty of entrepreneurs seem happy to take risks for the prospect of a thin slice of the social benefits.
A discussion paper published in 2004 by the economist William Nordhaus attempts to establish exactly how thin that slice is. Nordhaus reckons that innovators capture a “minuscule” 2.2 per cent of the total social benefit of their innovations. The other 97.8 per cent goes to consumers , partly because competitors soon catch on, and partly because no company, even a monopolist, can charge each consumer a price reflecting her individual willingness to pay.
Professor Nordhaus's estimate can be regarded as, at best, an educated guess, partly because Nordhaus is only able to focus on innovations which lead to lower production costs and thus lower prices. If that's the metric, developments such as the world wide web or penicillin barely register. Still, I think it's safe to say that both Tim Berners-Lee (the web) and Alexander Fleming (penicillin) reaped far less than 2.2 per cent of the total value to society of their insights.
諾德豪斯教授的估算充其量可以被看作一種推測，部分原因是他只能夠集中研究那些促進生產成本下降、進而降低價格的發明創造。如果那就是衡量標準，萬維網(World Wide Web)和盤尼西林(penicillin)等發明勉強說來也算符合。不過，我覺得可以有把握地說，萬維網創造者蒂姆•伯納斯-李(Tim Berners-Lee)和盤尼西林的發現者亞歷山大•弗萊明(Alexander Fleming)從他們的創意想法給社會帶來的總價值中收穫的份額遠遠低於2.2%。
Was Jobs an exception? Chris Dillow of the Investor's Chronicle, who called my attention to the Nordhaus paper, reckons that Jobs's gift for branding and design helped Apple retain an unusually large slice of the innovator's cake. Perhaps that's true. Apple's shareholders have certainly enjoyed a profitable few years. But the greater benefit has flowed to customers – and not only the customers of Apple.
喬布斯是一個例外嗎？使我注意到諾德豪斯論文的是《投資者年鑑》(Investors' Chronicle)的克里斯•迪洛(Chris Dillow)。他認為，喬布斯在品牌塑造和設計方面的天分幫助蘋果公司從創新者的蛋糕上分得了出奇大的一片。或許他說的對。蘋果的股東們近幾年無疑賺得盆滿缽盈。但更多的收益還是流向了顧客——而且不僅僅是蘋果的顧客。
Tim Harford's latest book is 'Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure' (Little, Brown)
蒂姆•哈福德的新書名為《適者生存：為何失敗是成功之母》(Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure)，由利特爾-布朗公司(Little, Brown)出版。