At the root of all innovation is change, and yet we see time and again how products, technologies and the people and companies who use them fight against it. Once a decision has been made, you cannot undo it.
Unless you’re Steve Jobs.
I often think about what not only Apple but countless companies and institutions would look like if led by the legendary Apple founder and former CEO, who died in 2011 at the age of 56.
Jobs’ career is filled with moments of daring, risk-taking and change – even if it has cost him time and money. It’s the opposite of how many tech companies seem to be working now, with plans baked in for many months, resulting in hardware and software with code that may contain outdated technology or thinking.
Change is hard and expensive, but what I think Jobs understood on a deeper and more intuitive level is that consumers don’t care how or why this weird feature ended up in their end product. They are interested in how the product works for them now and how it makes them feel.
The Jobs Bible
It’s often instructive for Jobs fans like me to return to the Jobs Bible, aka Walter Isaacson’s Comprehensive and Fully Sanctioned (Jobs cooperated until his death). biography. It’s filled with stories of Jobs realizing a problem or mistake and then making the difficult decision to start over.
Jobs actually believed strongly in this method, and as Isaacson noted, he often said that “everything he got right took a moment when he hit the rewind button. Either way, he had to rework something he didn’t think was perfect. “
Perfectionism was certainly a driving force in his product development, as was the fact that even in his sleep he never stopped thinking about the core products he was developing, such as the iPod and iPhone.
That ethos was so strong that it carried over to his lieutenants, including Jobs’ then-new chief retail officer, Ron Johnson, who awoke from his sleep with the realization that the first physical Apple Stores they built were wrong around every product were organized and not about the activities that someone could do with them. Of course, Jobs not only appreciated the late-game insight, he supported it and offered a crucial insight into his own product development strategy: “We only have one chance to get it right.”
This style of product strategy was evident in the earliest days of early Mac development, as Jobs struggled to fit a more powerful Motorola processor (the Motorola 68000 instead of the underperforming 6809) than what was in the original specification.
Sometimes the insights were immediate and, to be honest, a bit brutal. Former Apple employee Amit Chaudhary once shared the story from the days of original iPod development.
The prototype was essentially complete, and Jobs wanted it even smaller. Engineers said it couldn’t be made smaller. Jobs reportedly took the prototype, threw it into an aquarium, and when air bubbles rose from the submerged device, said, “These are air bubbles. That means there is space there. Make it smaller.”
No one was spared from Jobs’ flashes of inspiration.
When Apple was finalizing the first iPhone, Isaacson’s book recounts how Jobs approached chief designer Jony Ive and said, “I didn’t sleep last night because I realized I just didn’t love it.”
The problem was the screen. Since there was no physical keyboard, it was supposed to be the star of the iPhone show, but the Corning Gorilla Glass display competed with the aluminum body.
I agreed and before long they were pushing the glass to the edges of the device forcing them to rework the antenna and change the circuit board and processor placement.
Taking a break has never been a moment of indecisiveness for Jobs. It was clarity. Few people have seen the consumer electronics market so clearly before or since, and had such an innate, intuitive sense of what consumers would want and love – even before they did.
He also generally foresaw what they might hate and was constantly on the move to forestall those bad choices.
I’m always tickled by the one case that has little to do with technology. Steve Jobs founded Pixar and was at the helm of the company when it produced its first feature-length film: Toy Story. But he was partnered with Disney on the film, and particularly with impresario Jeffrey Katzenberg.
Katzenberg reportedly had a much meaner and more villainous Woody in mind. That direction nearly scuppered the project, as Katzenberg hated a premature cut (mostly his own fault) and halted production. Knowing Katzenberg was wrong, Jobs did what he could at his own expense to keep the project going, but with a much kinder and tastier Woody.
The Jobs way:
- Don’t settle for good enough
- Never let a bad idea get the better of you
- Make changes, even if they cost time and money
- Believe in your own instincts
- Making products that feel special
Any business can learn from this, but especially the consumer electronics industry, which is full of companies creating variations on a handful of ideas with less innovation, less risk-taking, less attention to scrubbing out small details that frustrate consumers, and less effort to polish others who might inspire.
They could all be more like Steve Jobs.
- iPhone 13 Pro review
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