Getting inside Steve Jobs’ head

Posted by Rob Enderle, Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

Analyst Opinion - This week Apple released its quarterly results and, coincidently, I’m in the process of reading one of the most useful books I’ve ever read - “Inside Steve’s Brain”, written by long time Apple expert Leander Kahney.  It is basically a textbook on how to create a company and products as good as or better than Apple.  This is a brilliant piece of work and it comes at a time when I’m learning about the upcoming products from a number of PC vendors who are trying to reproduce the growth, profitability, and loyalty that Apple has enjoyed.
 
A lot of them hired ex-Apple employees who get parts of the secret formula that Steve applies to his company. But Apple is Jobs’ company and very few get all of the parts.    In fact, as I read this book it puts some of the behavior that the unauthorized biographies have pointed out that bothered me in perspective. These behaviors previously seemed stupid and being stupid is inconsistent with the kind of quality work Jobs otherwise does.  While I’m quite sure that I wouldn’t want to work for the guy now, it does make me regret that did not work for him at some time in my past. Why? Simple: It would have been an invaluable lesson.  

This week I’m going to walk you through a few things that you will be seeing from Windows hardware vendors that will make those of us who don’t use Apple products happier. I will close with some of the issues that still need to be addressed and are required to truly build an Apple like experience. I will use this book as a backdrop.

Coming Soon:  The Apple-like Windows PC

The PC vendors are on a mad dash to create compelling products for the third and the fourth quarter.  They know the market is going to be tight and they have seen Apple’s market share grow in the face of their long standing belief that vertically linking software to hardware is suicidal.   This goes to show that just because you believe something to be true doesn’t mean it actually is and Apple’s near total control over their own platform is something the Windows OEMs now desperately want to have.
 
An interesting side note is that Phoenix Technologies has apparently been building a solution set to help the OEMs actually exceed Apple on several vectors and you will see announcements from Microsoft soon that suggest they too are moving to address areas where Apple has had historic superiority.  
Currently, while each approach is different, the hardware companies are trying to gain control over the user experience.

 This goes beyond the UI that has to maintain some consistency for the platform and moves into assuring the software and drivers that go into a machine are first reviewed and validated by the OEM to make sure they won’t break your hardware.   Clearly, part of this program would be the ability to opt out, but Apple controls most of what you put on an Apple machine and they even went farther with the iPhone/iPod Touch with the anticipated benefits of revenues related to these software offerings and increased reliability from a review cycle that isn’t robust enough at this time.

The stickers and crapware are coming out of systems particularly those in Apple’s premium side of the market.   One of the benefits you will increasingly see if you buy a higher end system is that it will be more pristine inside and out.
   
As I have been mentioning for some time now, the vendors are funding product design to almost unheard of levels, which will result in sexier offerings that you can be much more proud of.  

What still needs to happen:  Cloning Steve Jobs

One of the behaviors that I previously thought was stupid and cruel and now makes sense was the concept of being “Steved” this has been positioned as petty firing of employees on a whim.  In this most recent book, it is positioned as a leadership trait that actually was originated by Thomas Watson Jr. based on some work I did while at IBM.   Thomas Watson Jr. was the son of Thomas Watson who founded IBM and is largely credited with building IBM into the most powerful IT company in the 1960s and 70s.  
 
What Thomas did and Steve does was to corner employees and ask them about how they fit into the company and ask them about critical corporate initiatives.   If Thomas didn’t get the answer he was looking for he would reprimand the employee and their managers. Steve Jobs evidently fires the employee.   The end result however is that Steve does not have the level of infighting and lack of leadership that seems to plague most complex companies. He says jump, and his employees jump or leave. In a lot of other companies, the CEP is ignored when he asks them to jump.

Another thing Steve has done is learn his own strengths and weaknesses (dealing with customers, and people skills in general are not his strengths) and delegate the things he isn’t good at. Instead, he is focusing like a laser on building great products and marketing.  From the quality of the offering, to how it appears when first introduced, to the quality of the marketing he takes a personal interest and has no real analog inside and outside of Apple.  

Finally, Steve knows when to say no and that keeping something simple and easy to use is paramount to any effort.  Many vendors seem to go feature crazy and the end result is a product that are less reliable, hard to market and even harder to use.    One proof point, if I say “iMac” a product appears in your head, but how many other PCs are easy to remember?  Steve knows that simple sells and he keeps his product lines simple. The Dell One, Gateway One, HP Blackbird, and Voodoo Envy are exceptions from non-Apple vendors.  


Wrapping Up:  Making Steve’s brain part of your own

I’m only touching parts of this book and using it to showcase areas where you’ll see advancements and others where you may not.   I also think we could all learn a little from what the book contains in terms of knowing what you are good at and what to delegate, knowing that the appearance and presentation of things are often more important than what is inside, and that “no” is a powerful word that has a critical role to play in ensuring the quality of everything we touch.    

Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.