Thursday, January 16, 2014

Book: The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs by Carmine Gallo



In "The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs", Carmine Gallo extracts seven principles of innovation from the life and work of Steve Jobs. These are:

Principle One: Do What You Love
Principle Two: Put a dent in the universe.
Principle Three: Kick start your brain
Principle Four: Sell dreams, not products.
Principle Five: Say No to 1,000 Things
Principle Six: Create insanely great experiences
Principle Seven: Master the message
One More Thing . . . Expect Excellence from Yourself and Others

A good summary of the book can be found in this succint article in Forbes. Alternatively, watch the video at the end of this post.

Gallo's writing is very easy to read but his hyped language combined with his early mentions of several corny-yet-highly-successful American authors (e.g. Anthony Robbins, Rhonda Byrne, Robert Kiyosaki), did detract from the credibility of the message. Nevertheless, despite my wish to have seen the book toned down in areas, it must be recognised that Gallo has clearly pitched the book at the American business/entrepreneur, a breed of people who are much more receptive to hyperbole than us timid Brits. Also, credit to the author for achieving his objective, which is to help the reader to think differently about their business, career and life.   


The book starts off with an important reminder that necessity is the mother of invention, that economic fright and competitive stress often provide the impetus for firms and entrepreneurs to produce great new inventions and innovations that change the landscape.

Gallo briefly follows this with the idea that the economy needs innovation with a capital 'I' to spur economic growth, citing examples of previous game changers such as the internal combustion engine, the Internet and the humble bar code. The author doesn't develop this angle because it really isn't the point of the book, although I did think that Apple is surely an innovator with a small 'i'. I say this not because Apple literally uses a small 'i' in its product names (e.g. ipad, ibook, iphone) but because the company hasn't changed the landscape of human productivity nor improved living standards anywhere near as much as the big 'I' products and innovations of the past; we can add to earlier list things like antibiotics, sewerage systems, flushing toilets, glass, refrigeration, rail, etc. Surely it's more of the latter that we need from the macro perspective, perhaps combined with Apple-like companies to refine and market the hell out of them. 

Gallo's discussion of the the first principle, "Do What You Love" caused me greatest discomfort until I pondered over the context of the message. The core message here is that we should never give up on our dreams and passions. It is sound from an idealistic perspective but the harsh reality is that too many of us do not have the aptitude to make a living doing what stirs us, even if we are passionate about it (just watch some episodes of Dragon's Den to see some of crazy business ideas that deluded people have sadly invested their life savings in). Gallo does mention aptitude as a necessary partner to passion, but only briefly. Remember, the likes of Steve Jobs and other wunderkinds of business have aptitude that is off the charts.

Also, economic necessity requires trade-offs, since passions cannot always be made to pay, even for the brightest of minds. These quotes highlight the extreme nature of the message in chapter one:
"The world needs inventors - great ones. You can be one. If you love what you do and are willing to do what it takes, it's within your reach. And it'll be worth every minute you spend alone at night, thinking and thinking about what it is you want to design or build. It'll be worth it. I promise". - Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder)

"You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle." - Steve Jobs

"Find your passion. Once you do, you'll be on your way to creating insanely great ideas."  - Gallo
A recent Dilbert cartoon makes clear the risk of this dangerous philosophy:


The author also falls into what I think is a probabilistic fallacy trap by citing Steve Job's decision to follow his heart and take a course on calligraphy, which later informs Apple's font design, as an example of how following your heart is crucial and that "dots only connect when you look backward. You must trust that, by following your curiosity, the pieces will ultimately fit". Well of course they will. You get to where you got by doing what you did. There's a certain hindsight bias at play here, and yet this message was the centrepiece of Job's famous Stanford address..


After critiquing this chapter's simple but potentially dangerous message, I must point out a couple of good points. Firstly, I think it is necessary for the intended audience. Entrepreneurs are driven by animal spirits. They tend not to thrive by looking at the rational probabilities, but by believing they can defeat the odds. The truth is that most enterprises do not get off the ground, and yet the people who create these fledgling companies believe wholeheartedly that they can make their ideas work, that they somehow have the special sauce that makes their ideas different and more likely to succeed. They want to be told they can do it, they need to be told. Many will fail along the way but a lucky, determined few will make it. On balance, those who succeed will not have got there by umming and erring along the journey. They need to be obsessed and somewhat irrationally passionate.

This chapter also made me think about a possible relation to high achieving sports people, a group of pople who can readily switch between modes of rational analysis to absolute faith and confidence at the critical moment of execution, and how this contrasts with entrepreneur in one major crucial respect: duration. That is to say, perhaps the entrepreneur is more like Don Quixote in their detachment between their fantasy and the reality, as they are much more deeply entrenched in making their venture work, every hour of the day (and night). That said, Don Quixote is my favourite book and I too think that I could one day run a successful business - make of that what you will.

Moving on from the first chapter, things start to pick up with rather nicely. Chapter 3 is useful as it reminds us of the importance of failure, with inventor James Dyson noting "The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures is probably more creative." We also learn that Dyson only succeeded in his bagless vacuum only on the 5127th attempt. Simply put, failures are a necessary part of the creative process. They are the bit of the process that makes us stronger as individuals.

The role of passion as something that provides people with the energy to move towards their vision is also discussed in more depth. The reality for most people is that they can get interested or motivated about what they do for a living, but to get passionate is something else altogether:
"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties, and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than your ever dreamed yourself to be". - Patanjali

Discussing the role of vision, Gallo observes that not only did Jobs see beyond the horizon, but he brought others in along for the visionary ride, creating a culture of enthusiasm and evangelical believers. Some have described his ability as a "reality distortion field". Maybe you can't perform this kind of mind-bending magic, but you need to appreciate that if you want to stand a chance of succeeding, you wont be doing it on your own: you need to drum up an interest by lighting a fire in the minds of the people who can make your vision a reality.
Jobs was also cognisant of the problem of size and how bureaucracy leads to a loss of vision. He employed small teams to retain the dynamism and vision of the start-up to keep from becoming a 'vanilla corporation.'.

Turning to "selling a vision" to customers, Gallo observes that successful companies are not so much selling features and benefits as they selling a big and bold vision. For example, in the early days Apple was saving the consumer from world domination by IBM, Starbucks is selling a "third space" (somewhere between the office and the home) and the makers of the block-buster board game 'Cranium' were selling "self-esteem".

On the topic of creativity, we learn how breakthroughs often occur not by staring at something for longer but by seeing things differently in the first place. For example, the Xerox PARC institution happily showed Steve Jobs their creation of the graphic user interface (GUI), but only Jobs saw the potential, and he ran away with it. When the Apple II computer was being designed, Jobs forced his engineers to think differently about how they could eliminate noisy fans from the power supplies, which they managed to do. Apple also saw the potential to use magnetic connectors for cables (already in use in Japanese kitchen devices for safety reasons) for their computers. Gallo notes that Job's followed Buddhism and the practice of shoshun, or "beginner's mind", which can be useful in seeing things from a fresh perspective.

Interestingly, Jobs was not in favour of using focus groups and asking the customers what they wanted, appreciating that only incremental change would likely result from such an approach. Instead, the idea is to figure out what the customers wants before they know they want it. Says Jobs, "..you can't go out and ask people, you know, what's the next big thing? There's a great quote by Henry Ford, right? He said, 'If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they would have told me 'A faster horse'."

But at the same time, you can't just take the "build it and they will come" approach. You need to be in fully tune with the customer to successfully make this second guess. Gallo reminds us:
"Your customers don't care about you. It sounds harsh, but it's true. They don't care about the success of your company. They don't care about your product or service. They care about themselves, their dreams, their goals. Now, they will care much more about if you help them reach their goals, and to do that, you must understand their goals, as well as their needs and their deepest desires."
Guy Kawasaki also puts in well:

"Think digital, act analog. Use every digital tool at your disposal to create great products and services. But never lose sight of the fact that the purpose (of innovation) is not cool products but happy people. Happy people is a decidedly analog goal."

Moving back to competence and dedication, Gallo observes out that Steve Jobs had an unbelievably high level of scrutiny, that he was relentlessly obsessed with smallest of details. Time and time again we saw this in play when Apple released a product and the competition followed up with not nearly as good versions of the same thing. It's a pretty impressive feat: Apple thinks so long and hard about their offering that other players are often left scratching their heads and chasing their tails, even after the product is revealed.

My favourite bit of the book is the section on simplicity and the necessity of saying no and stripping back. Here are some quotes:

"I'm as proud of what we don't do as what we do" - Steve Jobs
"The way we approach design is by trying to achieve the most with the very least. We are absolutely consumed by trying to develop a solution that is very simple, because as physical beings we understand clarity" - Jonathon Ive (Apple Design Guru).
"We have too many unnecessary things everywhere" - Dieter Rams (Industrial Designer)
The idea of simple, highly effective processes, combined with a disciplined approach is readily applicable to one's personal and working life. Life is not about being "busy" or worse still, being seen to be busy. Complexities abound, in life as in commerce, but with considered thought a lot of this complexity can be reduced (especially if it is distracting noise) or can be given the appearance of the simple (relevant for necessary complexities that can't be reduced or eliminated). Indeed, I think the simple and streamlined approach to life is a healthy and elegant way in which to live and something I am always trying to move toward.

Finally, the last few chapters looked at creating great experiences for customers (Apple stores don't have cashiers) and also for employees, as well as the importance of mastering the message. Job's was a great story teller. He gave pared back presentations, often employing the classic villain/hero analogy, where the villain might be a competitor such as IBM or an idea such as difficult-to-use PCs, or the absence of a product to meet a crying need. Jobs also ensured the message was kept consistent and simple, with rarely more then three main take away points. Remember, we have limited memories ; )


If you want the core message in five minutes, watch this video by Carmine Gallo. Be warned, it is a quite cheesy:




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