Do one thing well
Throughout art school, I reflected fondly on times with my dad learning design programs on our Macintosh Color Classic, then years later teaching myself basic coding on my iMac (that I bought with my own savings), and in college, using my iBook to keep my school life on track. As I used these products over my formative years and learned more about Steve Jobs, I cherished a crucial lesson Steve Jobs preached: Do one thing well.
This edict came into play upon his 1997 return to Apple when there were too many products with no distinguishing features, so he nixed as many as he could. Since Jobs’ passing, I see this issue coming back to Apple, as others do. In the diagram below, you can see the multitude of options* for each product. I’m not even including all the colors. If your friend walked into the Apple store and wanted an iPad, which of the 21 would they pick? Would they pick the iPad mini 2 or 4? Not sure what the difference is? Me neither.
If Steve Jobs walked into Apple Computer now, which products would he nix? What’s the “one thing” Apple does well? I don’t have a good answer. That scares the shit out of me.
*I’m defining “option” as combinations of capacity, cellular/wifi, and model. I’m considering what questions a typical customer would be asked by a salesperson. Too many questions = too many options.
I can’t think of any product that I simultaneously love and hate, other than my iPhone. My iPhone has become an extension of my hand and my brain. It’s the keeper of my email, social media, texts, fitness tracker, music, calendar boarding passes, bank account. Heck, I can even order a coffee from it.
Oh, and it’s also a phone.
An original purpose of a cell phone was to keep people connected, no matter the distance between them or location. Instead, I find myself succumbing to the stereotypical millennial that is on their cell phone too much. Rather than feeling connected, I sometimes feel distant.
Instead of looking at the phone as the enemy, I need to look at my usage and behavior. I need to give up my phone for an hour a day or put it away during dinner. This will help me feel more connected to those around me, in real time, in real life.
But let’s face it: it’s unrealistic to say I’d just give it up (touché Apple & Steve). As I reflect on how Apple has changed my life, the most obvious and impactful product has been the iPhone. As much as I want to hate my phone for being such an important part of my life, I think it’s necessary to applaud the genius work that happened in order to put this tiny, smart device in my pocket. Apple successfully created a product I didn’t know I needed, and now I need it all the time.
Balancing leadership with ego
The story about Steve Jobs that most sticks with me is an anecdote from Jony Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer. Ive was frustrated that Jobs had given a harsh critique of some of his team’s work, and asked Jobs if he could be a bit softer in his feedback:
“Steve said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘ Because I care about the team.’
And he said this brutally, brilliantly insightful thing, which was, ‘No Jony, you’re just really vain.’ He said, ‘You just want people to like you, and I’m surprised at you because I thought you really held the work up as the most important, not how you believed you were perceived by other people.’
I was terribly cross, because I knew he was right.”
I had never thought of being nice to people as being vain, but it made me take a hard look at my management style, and how I provided feedback. By most accounts, Jobs likely was overly harsh, but was I too far in the other direction? Was I being overly kind because I wanted to be liked?
Was I sacrificing the work quality by omitting criticism, just so I could be the good guy? What was my real motivation here?
Shortly after I read Ive’s anecdote, a co-worker introduced me to the concept of “radical candor” — the idea that you can (and should) care about people personally while also challenging their work with direct feedback. I do no favors to my team’s work when I don’t directly address any issues.
If you’re not used to being direct, it can be a bit scary or feel “mean” to be critical in this manner. And if you’re used to being harsh, it may seem exhausting to have to consider the emotional impact of your feedback. But when you balance those two extremes effectively, you’ll see both the people and the work at their best.
Fantasy made real
As a boy in the mid-1970s, I made “computers” out of cardboard boxes. I drew buttons, screens, and knobs, and gave these contraptions futuristic names, like “The Auxillorator.” This was before personal computers existed, so my templates were mostly sci-fi novels and Star Trek.
Fast forward to now. We’ve tumbled through the unfolding of the personal computer revolution, the Internet, all the various flavors of digital disruption, mobile, and the oncoming wave of unfathomably transformative machine intelligence. The cardboard box of my imagination has become a real device, shrunk down into an impossibly powerful pocket supercomputer — the single defining artifact of our era.
Through it all, one person has been synonymous in my mind with the magic and wonder of this turbulent evolution. He burned so brightly, and pulled us all along with him so inexorably, it’s still hard to take stock of what happened. He seemed to channel otherworldly insight into almost every decision, defying conventions and destroying expectations, creating new categories and remaking entire industries one after another after another after another.
Yet, my imagination is drawn to what could have been, had he not departed so soon. He had magic in him. Real magic, like what children believe in, before the world teaches them otherwise.
His memory continues to ignite my sense of childlike wonder, always.
Christina Goodwin, Lead Experience Designer; Samantha Chaves, Senior Content Strategist; Michael Histen, VP/Director, Experience Design; Adam Buhler, VP/Group Architect, Creative Technology & Innovation