#281 Working with Steve Jobs



In the 281st episode of Founders Podcast, the host delves into the key principles behind Apple's design process during Steve Jobs' tenure, drawing parallels with Vince Lombardi's approach to coaching the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi's focus on perfecting a single play, the power sweep, led to multiple championships, exemplifying the potency of refining one aspect to excellence. Similarly, Steve Jobs' insistence on simplicity, intuitive design, and direct engagement in the product development process—eschewing data-driven decisions for a reliance on taste and judgment—drove Apple's success. The episode reflects on Jobs' philosophy that great products emerge from the intersection of technology and liberal arts, and the importance of a clear vision and meticulous iterative demos in achieving product excellence. The episode's insights are drawn from Ken Kocienda's book "Creative Selection: Inside Apple's Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs," illustrating how Apple's commitment to these principles under Jobs' decisive leadership resulted in groundbreaking products like the iPhone and iPad.

Summary Notes

Vince Lombardi's Philosophy and Impact on Green Bay Packers

  • Vince Lombardi joined the Green Bay Packers in 1959 and transformed a team with an 11-season losing streak into champions.
  • Lombardi emphasized chasing perfection to achieve excellence, focusing on perfecting a single running play: the power sweep.
  • Despite opponents knowing the Packers' play, they were unable to stop it due to the team's mastery of execution.
  • Lombardi's approach led to five championships over seven years, showcasing the effectiveness of his philosophy.

"We're going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it because perfection is not attainable. But we are going to relentlessly chase it because in the process, we will catch excellence."

This quote emphasizes Lombardi's belief in striving for perfection as a means to achieve excellence, even if perfection itself is unattainable. It underlines the importance of dedication and continuous improvement.

"Gentlemen, this is the most important play we have. It's the play we must make go. It's the play that we will make go. It's the play that we will run again and again and again."

Lombardi's focus on a single play illustrates the power of mastery through repetition and the importance of having a clear, actionable focus in team efforts.

Ken Kocienda's Book on Apple's Design Process

  • Ken Kocienda's book "Creative Selection" details his 15 years at Apple, focusing on software development and the company's product culture.
  • The book provides insights into presenting work to Steve Jobs and the high standards at Apple.
  • It describes Apple's iterative process of design and development, moving from problem to design to demo to shipping product.
  • Kocienda highlights the importance of demos in the development process and Steve Jobs' clear and direct feedback.

"Communicating a well articulated vision for what you're trying to do is the starting point for figuring out how to do it."

This quote captures the essence of beginning any complex effort with a clear vision, which serves as a guide for the actions needed to achieve the desired results.

"Steve Jobs was the Steve Jobs of football coaches."

Drawing a parallel between Vince Lombardi and Steve Jobs, this quote suggests that both were visionaries in their fields who pursued excellence with a clear and focused approach.

Steve Jobs' Influence and Approach at Apple

  • Steve Jobs is recognized for his high standards and intense work ethic.
  • Jobs preferred to see physical demonstrations of work rather than discussing hypotheticals.
  • Apple's approach to product development was not formally documented but was a natural outcome of the work culture established by Jobs.
  • The book emphasizes Jobs' clarity of thought and his role in making key product decisions through demo reviews.

"Intensity is the price of excellence."

Warren Buffett's quote, shared in the context of Steve Jobs' intensity, underscores the necessity of a strong, focused effort to achieve high levels of success.

"He wanted Apple's products to be great, and he insisted on being involved in the process as it went along."

This quote highlights Steve Jobs' hands-on approach to product development, ensuring that Apple's products met his vision for quality and intuitiveness.

The Decisiveness of Steve Jobs

  • Steve Jobs' decisiveness is exemplified in his clear and specific feedback during product demos.
  • Jobs' direct and predictable passion for products drove the development process at Apple.
  • The book recounts a specific demo where Ken Kocienda presents keyboard designs to Jobs, showcasing Jobs' decisive nature.

"Steve's response was the answer. While the pronouncements from the Greek oracle often came in the form of confusing riddles, that wasn't true with Steve. He was always easy to understand."

This quote reflects on Steve Jobs' straightforward manner during product demos, providing clear answers and guidance for the development team.

"Steve was still looking at me, continuing the demo introduction from where Scott left off. I said, right. There are two designs. One has more keys, like a laptop keyboard, and the other has bigger keys, like a scaled-up iPhone. We're thinking of offering both. Try the zoom key to switch between them."

An example of Jobs' direct interaction with Kocienda during a demo, this quote reveals Jobs' focused and attentive demeanor, as well as the clear communication of product features and options.

Steve Jobs’ Meticulousness and Decision-Making

  • Steve Jobs displayed a meticulous approach to evaluating new designs, taking time to absorb every detail.
  • He demonstrated decisiveness in choosing between different design options, indicative of his leadership style.
  • Jobs' focus was on the functionality and simplicity of the product, reflecting his customer-centric philosophy.
  • His decision-making process was swift and final, emphasizing the importance of his judgment in Apple's product development.

"Steve was like an expert, high stakes poker player, checking his whole cards for the first time after receiving them from the dealer."

This quote illustrates Steve Jobs' intense focus and thoughtful approach when first encountering a new design, akin to a strategic game of poker.

"Okay, we'll go with the bigger keys."

Jobs' concise verdict showcases his ability to make quick, definitive decisions that set the direction for product development.

The Role and Importance of Demos at Apple

  • Demos were used as a primary tool to transform ideas into tangible software products at Apple.
  • Steve Jobs' active participation in demo reviews was crucial for maintaining progress and momentum in product development.
  • The process of iteration through demos was integral to achieving Apple's goal of creating great software.
  • Substantial contributions to discussions during demos were necessary to gain future opportunities to present to Jobs.

"Demos served as the primary means to turn ideas into software."

This quote emphasizes the importance of demos in Apple's development process, acting as the main vehicle for turning concepts into functional software.

"His involvement kept the progress and momentum going."

Jobs' personal involvement in the demo process is highlighted as a key driver of progress, demonstrating his commitment to product excellence.

Steve Jobs’ Emphasis on Simplicity and Customer Experience

  • Jobs stressed the importance of simplicity in software design, aiming to make products intuitive and user-friendly.
  • He believed in the necessity of understanding the customer's perspective to create better products.
  • Jobs advocated for hacking away the unessential, removing non-critical features to enhance the user experience.
  • The concept of intuitive use without explanations or guidance was a fundamental principle in Apple's design philosophy.

"Steve looked carefully at the software and asked me succinct questions to see if the work could be made simpler."

This quote captures Jobs' pursuit of simplicity and his method of scrutinizing software to ensure it met this standard.

"You have to put yourself in your customer's shoes, and you have to hack away the unessential."

Jobs' philosophy of empathy for the user experience and focus on simplicity is summarized, highlighting key principles in Apple's product design.

Steve Jobs’ Preparation and Presentation Skills

  • Steve Jobs was known for his exceptional presentation skills, which were honed through extensive practice.
  • He would start rehearsing weeks in advance, methodically building his keynote presentations.
  • Jobs' success as a presenter was attributed to his rigorous practice routine, ensuring he was thoroughly prepared.

"He practiced a lot. He went over and over and over in the material until he had the presentation honed and he knew it cold."

This quote reveals the level of dedication Jobs had to perfecting his presentations, contributing to his reputation as a compelling speaker.

Continuous Innovation and Avoiding Complacency at Apple

  • Apple's culture under Steve Jobs was characterized by continuous innovation and a reluctance to rest on past successes.
  • Jobs' philosophy was to constantly strive for greatness and avoid complacency, as reflected in Apple's ethos.

"At Apple, there was never much time to savor success."

Jobs' perspective on the relentless pursuit of innovation at Apple is highlighted, indicating a culture that always looked forward to the next achievement.

Steve Jobs' Philosophy on Moving Forward

  • Steve Jobs believed in moving on to the next challenge after achieving success.
  • He emphasized not dwelling on past achievements for too long.
  • This philosophy is applicable to both successes and failures.

"I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful and not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what's next."

Steve Jobs' quote underscores the importance of forward momentum and continual innovation, rather than resting on one's laurels.

The Role of Demos in Product Evolution at Apple

  • Demos were central to the development of major features on the iPhone.
  • They were required to be concrete and specific to be effective.
  • Demos facilitated direct feedback, which was crucial for making creative decisions early on.
  • The iterative process of creating and refining demos helped in transforming ideas from intangible to tangible.

"Every major feature on the iPhone started as a demo... Demos were the catalyst for creative decisions, and we found that the sooner we started making creative decisions, the more time there was to refine and improve those decisions..."

The quote illustrates the iterative and feedback-driven process at Apple, where demos were essential for progress and decision-making.

The Importance of User Experience in Apple's Design

  • Apple was focused on creating user-friendly devices with intuitive features.
  • Designing an excellent user experience involved preventing negative experiences as much as facilitating positive ones.
  • Steve Jobs believed that every interaction with a customer could either increase or decrease their respect for the company.

"Designing an excellent user experience was as much about preventing negative experiences as facilitating positive ones."

This quote highlights Apple's commitment to user experience, emphasizing the importance of avoiding features that could lead to frustration or confusion.

The Apple Experience Concept

  • Steve Jobs coined the term "Apple experience" to describe the cumulative effect of customer interactions with the company.
  • Every interaction, from product use to customer support, contributed to the customer's perception of Apple.
  • Jobs aimed to ensure each interaction was positive to maintain and build the company's reputation.

"As he put it, a corporation could 'accumulate or withdraw credits from its reputation,' which is why he worked so hard to ensure that every single interaction a customer might have with Apple...was excellent."

The quote conveys Jobs' belief in the significance of each customer interaction in shaping the overall reputation of Apple.

The Distinction Between Apple's and Google's Design Philosophies

  • Apple's design philosophy was rooted in taste and the study of great work from the past.
  • Ken Kocienda believes in using past works as a benchmark for developing good taste.
  • Apple's approach contrasts with Google's data-driven method, which Ken views as lacking in design conviction.

"Studying great work from the past provides the means of comparison and contrast, and lets us tap into the collective creativity of previous generations."

This quote explains the value of historical perspective in shaping design taste and the creative process at Apple.

Steve Jobs on the Essence of Design

  • Steve Jobs defined design not as the product's appearance but as how it works.
  • He advocated for a product's form to follow its function.
  • Jobs stressed that a product should be intuitive and self-explanatory, emphasizing functionality over superficial aesthetics.

"Design is how it works... Product design should strive for depth, for a beauty rooted in what a product does, not merely in how it looks and feels."

The quote captures Steve Jobs' perspective that true design excellence lies in a product's functionality and the user experience it provides.

The Critique of a Data-Driven Approach to Design

  • Ken Kocienda criticizes the data-driven approach to design, as exemplified by Google.
  • He argues that without strong design leadership and conviction, a company may lose direction.
  • Kocienda favors a design process led by taste and intuition over one that relies solely on data.

"Without a person at the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions."

The quote reflects the belief that design requires leadership with a deep understanding of design principles, which is something Ken Kocienda feels was missing in Google's approach compared to Apple's.

Decision-Making Process at Apple vs. Google

  • Apple relied on Steve Jobs' personal taste rather than extensive A/B testing.
  • Steve Jobs trusted his judgment and taste in product design, such as choosing iPad's keyboard.
  • Google, in contrast, tested 41 shades of blue to make data-driven decisions, eliminating subjectivity.
  • Ken Kocienda notes that if some data is good, more must be better, but questions the exclusion of taste.
  • Apple's approach under Jobs was to make decisions quickly using good taste, as exemplified by the color choices for early iMacs.

Ken just described the demo process of Steve literally trusting his judgment, trusting his taste... He got some feedback from the designer, from the person that actually created, which is Ken said, okay, yeah, we're going to go with that. I trust my taste, and that's what shows up in the actual product.

This quote highlights Steve Jobs' reliance on his personal taste and immediate feedback from designers, such as Ken Kocienda, to make decisions during the product development process at Apple.

Yes, it is true that a team at Google could not decide between two blues. So they're testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better.

The quote contrasts Google's approach, which focuses on data-driven decisions through extensive testing, with Apple's reliance on taste and intuition.

Steve Jobs' Leadership and Product Development Philosophy

  • Steve Jobs' decision-making was swift and based on his taste and experience.
  • He avoided common product development traps, such as excessive discussions without concrete examples or relying on static specifications.
  • Jobs maintained a balance between influence and involvement, unlike the "seagull manager" who makes detached decisions.
  • Under Jobs, Apple did not maintain large, isolated software research departments but focused on practical product development.
  • The concept of "creative selection" was key, with a focus on demos and consistent application over time to achieve results.

Steve worked himself into a position where he could trust his judgment.

This quote emphasizes the experience and confidence Steve Jobs had in his design choices, which allowed him to trust his own judgment in product development.

Consequently, our success was as much about what we did not do as what we did.

Ken Kocienda reflects on the principle of avoiding typical Silicon Valley development traps, which contributed to Apple's success by not overcomplicating the product development process.

The Intersection of Technology and Liberal Arts at Apple

  • Apple's product philosophy was influenced by Edwin Land and Steve Jobs' belief in the intersection of technology and liberal arts.
  • This approach aimed to create products that were technologically advanced yet intuitive and user-friendly.
  • Apple University offered a course on melding technology and liberal arts, highlighting the importance of this intersection.
  • Steve Jobs publicly spoke about the value of this intersection in creating products like the iPad.

The intersection is the title of this chapter and was an idea that helped us... We use this notion to guide our efforts as we developed and lived on our gadgets, so that they turned out to be more than an agglomeration of the latest cpu, sensors, and software manufacturer to scale.

Ken Kocienda discusses the guiding principle at Apple of creating products at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, which aimed to make products meaningful and useful.

The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, to be able to get the best of both, to make extremely advanced products from a technology point of view, but also have them be intuitive, easy to use, fun to use, so that they really fit the users.

Steve Jobs' quote encapsulates the core philosophy of Apple's product design, which is to blend advanced technology with the human-centric approach of the liberal arts.

Steve Jobs' Impact and Legacy

  • Steve Jobs' single-minded focus on creating great products left a lasting impact on Apple and the tech industry.
  • His approach motivated and influenced many, including Ken Kocienda and others involved in Apple's product development.
  • The end of the book touches on the emotional realization of Steve Jobs' declining health and eventual resignation as CEO.

Steve Jobs provided his single minded focus on making great products and his vision motivated.

Scott summarizes Steve Jobs' profound influence on Apple's success and his lasting legacy, which was characterized by a relentless focus on product excellence.

About six weeks later, Steve resigned from his position as CEO of Apple. About six weeks after that, he was gone.

The quote marks the poignant end of an era with Steve Jobs' resignation and subsequent passing, highlighting the personal impact his journey had on those who worked with him.

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