Ideas into Action: Steve Jobs

This past October, Bloomberg Businessweek ran an article that provided rare insight into one of today’s innovators, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The article was in the form of an interview with former Apple CEO John Sculley, the man who was, albeit briefly, Steve Jobs’ boss. According to Sculley, Job’s way of working—of moving the idea into action—was to start with the industrial design, and start with that from the user’s perspective:

“Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression…”

“Steve’s brilliance is his ability to see something and then understand it and then figure out how to put it into the context of his design methodology—everything is design.”

Sculley, of course, has not been with Apple for a number of years. Yet, he cites  evidence to prove that Steve Jobs continues to work from the design first:

” …A friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day. And this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he’s a vendor for Apple), and as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking, because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.”

How does this “work from the design” play out into moving ideas into hugely successful products and services? Let’s take the iPod, for example. Does anyone remember mp3 players? Prior to the iPod, they existed, and had buttons and controls like the old Sony Walkman. Apple introduced the one-button interface, the scroll-wheel (later the click wheel). The idea was a simple, one-button interface, the action resulted in a product that defined the mp3 player and revolutionized the music industry.

The iTunes Music Store was based on a similar “let’s make this really simple” concept; transactions at the music store are so easy and painless, you barely realize you’re making a purchase. And the iPhone? The “touch events” are both simple and intuitive.

According to Sculley,

“He (Jobs) is a minimalist and constantly reducing things to their simplest level. It’s not simplistic. It’s simplified. Steve is a systems designer. He simplifies complexity.”

Simplicity of design is just one way to innovate; I’m sure there are as many ways of approaching innovation as there are great innovators. Of course, at Barnes & Conti we think great ideas require a workable process to see them through (see our Managing Innovation program).  If I were to speculate, and plug Steve Job’s design-based focus into our “innovation journey” model, it would come somewhere mid-journey, at the committing and/or realizing phase.

Apple—and Steve Jobs—are not exactly forthcoming about their own innovation process, particularly how they sift through the ideas to come up with the ones they will work on. What we have in the above referenced article is a glimpse into moving ideas into action—and innovation.

All Quotes from “Being Steve Jobs’ Boss,Bloomberg Business Week, October 20, 2010

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  1. […] takes risk, and risk takes failure. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Steve Jobs as an innovator and idea mover. There is an often told story—possibly apocryphal, but most likely not—that in the early days […]

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