Friday, October 25, 2013
How smart guys pitched their ideas to Steve Jobs, the prickly perfectionist
Steve Jobs looked at the world in binary mode. Either your idea was shitty or it was fantastic – nothing in between. That made the life difficult for people presenting ideas to him. How did they manage it? What tactics did the smart folks employ to get their ideas accepted? Let’s see in this article. Your boss or reviewer may not be as “binary” as Jobs, but the techniques may still come handy.
Show it privately: This is how Jonathan Ive, the key designer behind iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad and Steve’s close friend dealt with the situation. Ive and his team were working on multi-touch technology for the MacBook Pro in their spare time. He knew that it could be a game-changer technology. Ive says, “Because Steve is so quick to give an opinion, I don’t show him stuff in front of other people,” Ive recalled. “He might say, ‘This is shit,’ and snuff the idea. I feel that ideas are very fragile, so you have to be tender when they are in development.” Ive demoed the multi-touch idea in a one-on-one meeting. Fortunately, Jobs liked it and said, “This is the future.”
Create a Fine-tune-It-Yourself kit: Chris Espinosa was a Berkeley drop-out and part of Mac development team. On his own he decided to design a calculator for Mac. When he showed the first demo to Jobs, he said, “Well, it’s a start, but basically, it stinks.” Jobs felt that the background color is too dark, buttons are too big etc. Espinosa started to refine the design based on Jobs’ feedback. But with every iteration came more criticism. After a number of iterations, Espinosa got fed up and created a brilliant solution - “The Steve Jobs Roll Your Own Calculator Construction Set”. It allowed Jobs to tweak and personalize the look-and-feel. Jobs spent ten minutes and fine-tuned it to his taste. This design shipped on the Mac and remained the standard for fifteen years.
Quietly disregard the comment and go ahead: During the Mac development, the team desperately needed a 5 ¼ inch hard drive. The one being developed in the Apple corporate office was buggy. Belleville, head of Mac Engineering team, suggested two options to Jobs. One, sourcing it from Sony, and two, sourcing a Sony-clone from Alps Electronics, a smaller Japanese supplier. Jobs and Belleville flew to Japan and saw both the products. Jobs thought Alps was great and Sony was shitty. Belleville was appalled as he felt that Alps could not deliver it within the required timeframe. Anyway, Jobs ordered Belleville to cease all work with Sony.
Belleville gave a go ahead to both the companies. One engineer from Sony, Hidetoshi Komoto, would work clandestinely at Mac engineering team. They would hide him whenever Jobs visited. Eventually, Alps folks admitted that they would need eighteen more months for production to start. At that point, Belleville told Jobs that he might have an alternative to the Alps drive ready soon. With a big grin on his face, Jobs said, “You son of a bitch!”