Company Mottos at the Intersection of Magical and Cliche

Photograph by Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

Apple's Steve Jobs shows off the new iPad during an event in San Francisco in 2010.

Steve Jobs often said that Apple was “at the intersection of technology and liberal arts.” The iconic co-founder alluded to that phrase in one of his last product presentations.

“I’ve said this before, but thought it was worth repeating: It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough, that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing,” Jobs said in 2011, just months before he died.

Jobs inspired a generation of tech entrepreneurs who imitate his design, management and presentation styles. Some seem to have adopted versions of his motto, too.

In my Bloomberg Businessweek profile of Aaron Emigh, the co-founder of Shopkick described his company in terms similar to Jobs’s. Shopkick makes a mobile-phone app that offers shoppers reward points for future purchases just for walking into a store.

“A lot of the most interesting innovation happens at intersections, whether between psychology and technology,” Emigh said. In Shopkick’s case, he described the company as being “between the physical and virtual words.”

At a Facebook news conference a year ago, Mark Zuckerberg dropped a similar phrase near the end of his speech. “We exist at the intersection between technology and social issues,” he said.

But that’s not Facebook’s only intersection. In 2010, Elliot Schrage, a company spokesman, said in a statement that the social networking giant was looking to address “questions at the intersection of technology and public policy.”

Then, at a Facebook “hackathon” event in January, the advertising agency R/GA, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, uttered its own mutation of the mantra.

“We’re at the intersection of social media and branded event advertising,” John Mayo-Smith, the agency’s executive vice president and chief technology officer, said to the group, according to the New York Times.

Catchy.

An engineer at Spotify, which makes a digital music streaming service, says his company is at a different cross street. “We sit at the intersection of music and tech, and are interested in any arenas in which those areas combine to develop new and exciting experiences that push the envelope,” Jason LaCarrubba told Fortune recently.

Kickstarter, the website that lets people fund artistic ideas, tosses around the following starry-eyed line: “The Kickstarter economy stands at the intersection between commerce and arts patronage.” A spokesman said he wasn’t aware that other companies have used similar wording, but said it’s “not always easy to explain what’s new unless framing around already established notions.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Jobs’s elegant and innovative phrase is that it’s not his.

“Edwin Land of Polaroid talked about the intersection of the humanities and science,” Jobs told Walter Isaacson for his authorized biography. “I like that intersection. There’s something magical about that place.”

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