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  • Mark 7:30 pm on May 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
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    The Accelerative Ethos of Steve Jobs 

    From the Commencement address Steve Jobs gave on June 12, 2005:

    When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

    Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    Life is short. We’ll be dead soon. This is why it’s important to fill life with as much of value and interest as possible. The good life is the full life.

  • Mark 6:16 pm on January 27, 2016 Permalink
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    the obsessive secrecy of Apple 

    From Battle of the Titans loc 543. I’m intruiged by non-disclosure of non-disclosure agreements: why stop there? Surely this could be grounds for an infinite loop? More seriously, I wonder how this effects the framing of the proposition to potential staff: is there a performative element to this in order to convey the importance of the project? How is this received by staff?

    On top of all that, Jobs’s obsession with secrecy meant that despite being exhausted from working eighty hours a week, the few hundred engineers and designers working on the project couldn’t talk about the project to anyone else. If Apple found out you’d told a friend in a bar, or even your spouse, you could be fired. Before a manager could ask you to join the project, you had to sign a nondisclosure agreement in his office. Then, after he told you what the project was, you had to sign another document confirming that you had indeed signed the NDA and would tell no one. “We put a sign on over the front door of the iPhone building that said FIGHT CLUB because the first rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club,” Forstall would explain in his court testimony. “Steve didn’t want 22 to hire anyone from outside of Apple to work on the software, but he said I could hire anyone in the company I wanted,” Forstall said. “So I’d bring recruits into my office. Sit them down and tell them, ‘You are a superstar at Apple. Whatever you are doing now, you’ll do fine. But I have another project that I want you to consider. I can’t tell you what it is. All I can say is that you will have to give up untold nights and weekends and that you will work harder than you have ever worked in your life.”

    Loc 558 discusses the role that the performance of secrecy can play in drawing demarcations within Apple:

    One of the most obvious manifestations of Jobs’s obsession with secrecy was the growth of lockdown areas all over campus—places that those not working on the iPhone could no longer go. “Each building is split in half, and there is this corridor that runs through the middle of them with common areas, and after one weekend they just put doors around the common areas so that if you were not on the project, and you were used to using that space, it was now off-limits,” Grignon said. “Steve loved this stuff. He loved to set up division. But it was a big ‘fuck you’ to the people who couldn’t get in. Everyone knows who the rock stars are in a company, and when you start to see them all slowly get plucked out of your area and put in a big room behind glass doors that you don’t have access to, it feels bad.”

  • Mark 6:09 pm on January 27, 2016 Permalink
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    the psychology of business for punks 

    I wrote last week about the notion of ‘business for punks’ propounded by the founder of BrewDog. This little snippet from Battle of the Titans reflects a similar ethos. Is Silicon Valley full of people who understand themselves as ‘doing business for punks’: is this the ethos underlying a commitment to ‘disruption’? From loc 333:

    Jobs was personally offended 11 by this way of doing business and wanted no part of it. “We’re not the greatest at selling to the Fortune 500, and there are five hundred of them—five hundred CIOs [chief information officers] that are orifices you have to go through to get” that business. “In the cell phone business there are five. We don’t even like dealing with five hundred companies. We’d rather run an ad for millions and let everyone make up their own mind. You can imagine what we thought about dealing with five,” he said during an onstage interview at the All Things D conference in May 2003. Translation: I am not about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to have a bunch of suits tell me how to build and sell my phone.

    The assumed meritocracy of appealing directly to the public is counter posed to the stuffy intermediaries with a vested interest in established way of doing things.

  • Mark 12:09 pm on November 19, 2015 Permalink
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    the origins of apple as a luxury goods company  

    From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 104:

    Jobs aimed at making innovative products again, but he didn’t want to compete in the broader market for personal computers, which was dominated by companies making generic machines for Microsoft’s Windows operating system. These companies competed on price, not features or ease of use. Jobs figured theirs was a race to the bottom. Instead, he argued, there was no reason that well- designed, well- made computers couldn’t command the same market share and margins as a luxury automobile. A BMW might get you to where you are going in the same way as a Chevy that costs half the price, but there will always be those who will pay for the better ride in the sexier car. Rather than competing with commodity PC makers like Dell, Compaq and Gateway, why not make only first- class products with high margins so that Apple could continue to develop even better first- class products? The company could make much bigger profits from selling a $3,000 machine rather than a $500 machine, even if they sold fewer of them. Why not, then, just concentrate on making the best $3,000 machines around? The potential merits of Jobs’s strategy for the company finances were clear. Fewer products meant less inventory, which could have an immediate effect on the bottom line. In fact, Jobs was able to save Apple $300 million in inventory in just one year, and avoid having warehouses full of unsold machines that might have needed to be written off if they failed to sell.

    This new Apple would be built around industrial design, replacing the older engineer led culture which had solidified at Apple since Jobs had been forced out of the company. From page 105:

    Jobs’s plan for Apple was more than a matter of B- school economics: he planned to make industrial design the centrepiece of Apple’s comeback. Since his first incarnation at Apple (1976–1985), it had been apparent that design was a guiding force in the trajectory of Steve Jobs’s life. Unlike Jony, Jobs had no formal design training, but he possessed an intuitive design sense that dated to his childhood. Jobs, early on, learned that good design wasn’t just on the exterior of an object. As Mike Ive had been for Jony, Jobs’s father was a formative influence on his son’s appreciation of design. ‘[My father] loved doing things right. He even cared about the look of the parts you couldn’t see,’ Jobs recalled. His father refused to build a fence that wasn’t constructed as well on the back side as it was the front. ‘For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.’

    For Jobs, design amounted to more than appearances. ‘Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,’ Jobs famously said. ‘People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ 6 With the development of the Macintosh, Jobs got really serious about how- it- works industrial design, which he believed could be a key differentiator between Apple’s consumer- friendly, works- right- out- of- the- box philosophy and the bare bones, utilitarian packaging of early rivals like International Business Machines.

    This entails a very specific orientation towards design. As Ive describes on pg 115:

    ‘As industrial designers we no longer design objects,’ Jony said. ‘We design the user’s perceptions of what those objects are, as well as the meaning that accrues from their physical existence, their function and the sense of possibility they offer.’

    One which contrasted markedly with their competitors in the PC industry. From page 115-116:

    The computer industry ‘is an industry that has become incredibly conservative from a design perspective,’ he said. ‘It is an industry where there is an obsession about product attributes that you can measure empirically. How fast is it? How big is the hard drive? How fast is the CD? That is a very comfortable space to compete in because you can say eight is better than six.’ 22 But Jony offered a key insight: ‘It’s also very inhuman and very cold. Because of the industry’s obsession with absolutes, there has been a tendency to ignore product attributes that are difficult to measure or talk about. In that sense, the industry has missed out on the more emotive, less tangible product attributes. But to me, that is why I bought an Apple computer in the first place. That is why I came to work for Apple. It’s because I’ve always sensed that Apple had a desire to do more than the bare minimum. It wasn’t just going to do what was functionally and empirically necessary. In the early stuff, I got a sense that care was taken even on details, hard and soft, that people may never discover.’

  • Mark 12:08 pm on November 19, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: , consumer products, , organisational culture, steve jobs, ,   

    organisational minimalism 

    From Jony Ive, by Leander Kahney, pg 101-102:

    Much was about to change in how Apple was run, beginning with the product lineup. When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company had forty products on the market. To appreciate the baffling nature of Apple’s kitchen- sink strategy at the time, consider the company’s computer lineup. There were four main lines: the Quadra, the Power Mac, the Performa and the PowerBook. Each was split into a dozen different models, which were delineated from one another with confusing product names straight out of a Sony catalogue (for example, the Performa 5200CD, Performa 5210CD, Performa 5215CD and Performa 5220CD). And that was just computers. Apple had branched out into a wide- ranging product portfolio, selling everything from printers, scanners and monitors to Newton handhelds. To Jobs, this made no sense. ‘What I found when I got here was a zillion and one products,’ Jobs later said. ‘It was amazing. And I started to ask people, now why would I recommend a 3400 over a 4400? When should somebody jump up to a 6500, but not a 7300? And after three weeks, I couldn’t figure this out. If I couldn’t figure this out … how could our customers figure this out?’The product line was so complicated that Apple had to print elaborate flowcharts to explain to customers (and as a cheat sheet for employees) what the differences between Apple’s products were.

    After several weeks, during a big strategy meeting, Jobs had had enough. ‘Stop!’ he screamed, ‘This is crazy.’ He jumped up and went to the whiteboard. He drew a simple chart of Apple’s annual revenues. The chart showed the sharp decline, from $12 billion a year to $10 billion, and then $7 billion. Jobs explained that Apple couldn’t be a profitable $12 billion company, or a profitable $10 billion company, but it could be a profitable $6 billion company. That meant radically simplifying Apple’s product pipeline. How? Jobs erased the whiteboard and drew a very simple two- by- two grid in its place. Across the top he wrote ‘Consumer’ and ‘Professional’, and down the side, ‘Portable’ and ‘Desktop’. Welcome to Apple’s new product strategy, he said. Apple would sell only four machines. Two would be notebooks, the other two desktops. Two machines aimed at pros, two machines aimed at consumers.

    And the corollary to this high minded minimalism:

    Over the next eighteen months, more than 4,200 full- time staff were laid off. By 1998, Apple had shrunk to only 6,658 employees, half the 13,191 the company had in 1995. 3 But the balance sheet was brought back into control.

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