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💥 Cultivating Influential Taste and Closing The Taste-Skill Gap

“What did you learn about running your own business that you wished you had thought of sooner, or thought of first, by watching the other guy?” 

That was a question posed to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the only interview the two frenemies ever held together in 2007. After shifting in his chair and reflecting for a moment, Bill goes first: “Oh, I’d give a lot to have Steve’s taste.” The audience bursts into laughter as Steve just stares intensely at the floor in his classic black turtleneck.  

“Not a joke at all,” Bill continued, “we sat in Mac product reviews where there were questions about software choices, how things would be done, that I viewed as an engineering question and I’d see Steve make the decision based on a sense of people and product that, you know, is even hard for me to explain. The way he does things, it’s just different, and I think it’s magical.” 

Steve’s magical taste was mystifying to Bill, but today we’re pulling back the curtain to see how great taste is cultivated. Because in a world where A.I. models can generate dozens of beautiful creations in less than a minute, taste will take on ever greater importance, and so it’s essential we harness it. 

A taste of what’s in store:

  • 🍏 We solve the mystery of how Steve Jobs crafted his influential taste and reveal the lifelong habit that can help us craft our own.

  • 🕶️ One of the world’s most influential women, Anna Wintour, shares her stealthy approach to making more tasteful decisions.

  • 🏆 A famous music producer and an award-winning journalist teach us to protect our taste over the long run and protect it from outside corruption.

P.s., you can check out editions 1-10 here in case you missed them, including insights such as The Paradox Of Creative Consensus, winning creative strategies from Stanford designers, and the audacious motivational hack used by Yellowstone’s showrunner.

Seriously, there are some gems you’ll appreciate in these early editions. ;-)

1. Expose Yourself To The Best Things That Humans Have Done

Photo by Alexander Shatov

While it isn’t explicitly stated, there’s a chapter in Walter Issacson’s biography on Steve Jobs that makes the source of his mystical taste blindingly obvious. 

“The Jobses’ house and the others in their neighborhood were built by real estate developer Joseph Eichler,” Isaacson writes, “Jobs said that his appreciation for Eichler homes instilled in him a passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. ‘I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,’ he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the houses. ‘It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.’” 

This anecdote makes it quite clear that Steve’s taste for beautiful, mass market products, originated with Eichler’s homes. But Steve didn’t just limit his inspiration to housing…

In 1981, “he began attending the annual International Design Conference in Aspen,” Issacson recounts. “The meeting that year focused on Italian style, and it featured the architect-designer Mario Bellini, the filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci, the car maker Sergio Pininfarina, and the Fiat heiress and politician Susanna Agnelli.” “‘I had come to revere the Italian designers, just like the kid in Breaking Away reveres the Italian bikers,’ recalled Jobs, ‘so it was an amazing inspiration.’” 

Italian design combined with the Bauhaus movement gave way to Apple’s iconic minimal, white, styling…

“Jobs publicly discussed his embrace of the Bauhaus style in a talk he gave at the 1983 design conference.” “He predicted the passing of the Sony style in favor of Bauhaus simplicity. ‘What we’re going to do is make the products high-tech, and we’re going to package them cleanly so that you know they’re high-tech. We will fit them in a small package, and then we can make them beautiful and white, just like Braun does with its electronics.’” 

And when it came to the specific details of the Mac design, Steve called upon a wide range of influences for directing his taste.


“We need it to have a classic look that won’t go out of style, like the Volkswagen Beetle,” Jobs said. From his father he had developed an appreciation for the contours of classic cars.”

“He also admired the design of the Mercedes. ‘Over the years, they’ve made the lines softer but the details starker,’ [Jobs] said one day as he walked around the parking lot. ‘That’s what we have to do with the Macintosh.’” 


“One weekend Jobs went to Macy’s in Palo Alto and again spent time studying appliances, especially the Cuisinart. He came bounding into the Mac office that Monday, asked the design team to go buy one, and made a raft of new suggestions based on its lines, curves, and bevels.” 


“‘I have always found Buddhism, Japanese Zen Buddhism in particular, to be aesthetically sublime,’ he said. ‘The most sublime thing I’ve ever seen are the gardens around Kyoto. I’m deeply moved by what that culture has produced, and it’s directly from Zen Buddhism.’” 

Steve's incessant references to excellent work reveals that his taste was shaped by a lifelong dedication to studying the pinnacle of design across diverse fields, and nurturing a deep appreciation for excellence in all forms. 

He said it most plainly himself in a 1995 interview: “Ultimately it comes down to taste. It comes down to trying to expose yourself to the best things that humans have done, and then try to bring those things into what you're doing. I mean, Picasso had a saying, he said, ‘Good artists copy, great artists steal.’ And we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”

To become influential, we must first be influenced. It turns out, our outputs - what we create and release into the world - is only bounded by our inputs - everything we’ve cared to learn, experience, and consider (or obsess over).

But passive exposure to excellence isn’t enough…

2. God Is In The Details 

Anna Wintour, as the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue, founder of the Met Gala, and a patron to countless emerging designers, wields a taste that has profoundly shaped the global fashion landscape, marking her as one of the most influential tastemakers of all time.

And while Anna’s advice for cultivating taste echoes that of Steve Jobs: “[taste] is also something that you can develop through exposure to culture, to the arts, through reading, visiting museums, looking at what's going on in the world around you,” Anna’s cultural consumption wasn’t a passive hobby, but rather something she took seriously. 

Anna regularly attended clubs in New York City when she was young. But rather than partying, she would consume no alcohol and leave within an hour. That’s because she wasn’t there to have a good time, she was there to study, “Visiting the clubs was more about reconnaissance than excess,” writes Amy Odell, Anna’s biographer, “amidst a crowd of the fashionable, she was studying.” 

Anna’s taste was a product of the meticulous attention she paid to the world of fashion around her combined with an obsessive fascination for details.  

“Anna reviewed every photo from every shoot herself, which also stunned the staff,” says Odell, “as soon as the film came in, Anna would go into a room with a projector and examine all of the shots one by one.”

“She also demanded ‘endless reshooting,’” one colleague said. “For her very first cover, Anna wanted to feature the English actress Amanda Pays in a bright-orange coat with wide, architectural lapels and the exaggerated shoulders of the period, designed by Jean Muir. ‘I can't tell you how many cover tries of that coat we shot and reshot until we arrived at the ultra-simple image on a stark white background that she wanted.’” 

Anna openly acknowledges that her attention to detail is what sets her apart: “I am not a creative person, I cannot draw, I cannot sketch, I cannot make anything. I just have to make sure things are done right.” 

Both Anna and Steve’s taste was an instinct that arose from careful study of details and the passion to meticulously refine them. “God is in the details,” concluded Anna, the exact same mantra that Steve Jobs would often cite.

But we must be weary not to stray down the wrong path as we refine our taste.

3. Reduce It To ‘What Do You Like?’ 

As someone who’s produced music with the likes of Adele, Kanye West, and Johnny Cash, Rick Rubin is another tastemaker with renowned global influence. But Rick’s advice on taste comes in the form of a warning: make sure it’s authentic.

“You can’t second guess your own taste for what someone else is gonna like, it won’t be good,” Rick counsels. “We’re not smart enough to know what someone else is going to like.” “It’s a bad way to play the game of music or art. You have to do what’s personal to you, take it as far as you can go, really push the boundaries, and people will resonate with it if they’re supposed to resonate with it, but you can’t get there the other way, you know. The other way is a dead end path.” 

Rick suggests that one way to achieve this authenticity is to notice your genuine preferences. “I’m not asking which is better. I'm asking which one do I like? It's so simple. It's so straightforward if you reduce it to ‘what do you like’ and you know what you like.”

4. Take Action In Style

Today’s issue is all about a shared appreciation of detail and beautiful design. 

So we figured it’s a good opportunity to break down why The Action Method products are designed with taste in mind. 

  1. Every page within the Action Method family is printed on 80lb Vellum Cool White Premium Paper. The weight and vellum finish gives a substantial, luxurious feel to each page. The thickness prevents bleed-through from ink and the durability resists degradation, protecting your notes and ideas over time.

  2. With double perforation, your notes can be cleanly torn out from the journals, making it easier to rearrange, visualize, and share your ideas. Each page also includes three holes punched between perforations, allowing you to file your notes in a three-ring binder, providing maximum optionality.

  3. Each journal is wrapped in a suede-to-the-touch cover that adds a soft, plush texture and an elegant aesthetic. This ensures comfortable handling while on the go and offers an extra layer of protection for the important ideas contained within. 

It’s small details like these that makes The Action Method range the most practical and premium journals for creatives on the market. 

“Gone are the days where I walk out of a meeting with long notes and no clear understanding what I need to do. These notebooks keep me on track.”

Tina Roth Eisenberg, founder and designer

5. Fight Your Way Through The Taste-Skill Gap

In 2019, over five million people were tuning in weekly to This American Life, a radio show produced by award winning journalist, Ira Glass. 

But it took years of struggle to reach the point where even a handful of people would listen to Ira’s work. After 10 years in the journalism industry, Ira felt ready to start reporting his own stories. But, “I was not good at it,” he admitted. “It would take me like a month to do a story that would take a normal reporter like three days. And I was a terrible performer on the air, and I was not good at interviewing people in a way that you could broadcast. Like their quotes were good, but I sounded terrible in the tape.” 

Ira did have one thing going for him, however

🔐 This insight, that reveals the two techniques Ira Glass used to close the taste-skill gap, is for premium subscribers (yep, this weekly digest is reader supported). For the price of one fancy coffee per month our research team will agonize over the lessons learned from world class creative leaders and teams who make ideas happen, and send their tightly summarized conclusions directly to your inbox on a weekly basis. What a proposition, huh?!

☕️ Join us and help make this weekly action catalyst for creative minds a sustainable project.  

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We’ll leave you with this…

The objective is not to learn to mimic greatness, but to calibrate our internal meter for greatness. So we can better make the thousands of choices that might ultimately lead to our own great work.” 

Rick Rubin

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