Last week, in a piece for O'Reilly Radar, I contemplated the legacy of Steve Jobs.
In it, I concluded that Jobs' greatest technology innovation may actually be bringing humanity "back into the center of the ring," in terms of putting users and user experiences at the core of product ideation and realization.
This ethos, which is so fundamental to the "Apple Way," is a by-product of a corporate culture that embraces a unity of technology and liberal arts, seemingly orthogonal constructs, that Apple nonetheless finds a way to harmoniously, "magically" institute together.
Of course, there is more to it than that, which Jean-Louis Gassée' beautifully written, 'Steve: Who’s Going to Protect Us From Cheap and Mediocre Now?' brought to the fore.
Here is an excerpt, where Gassée envisions Jobs' evolution from visionary-mad man to industry god:
For a long time, I’ve seen him as having an animal inside him, the one with the desires, the instinct, the drive. In 1985, that animal threw Steve to the ground. He picked himself up at Pixar — you’d be a captain of industry for doing no more — and NeXT. Then, in 1997, armed with Pixar’s success and Next’s technical prowess, he came back to run Apple and make it really his. He had learned to ride the animal.
Great stuff, but what struck me from the piece was looking at this Apple org chart (from Fortune), and thinking about how different it is from most of the org charts that I am used to seeing.
The Power of Organization Alchemy
Have you ever wondered why, despite quarter after quarter of hard data and eyeballs full of proof, there just aren't more (any??) tech vendors that embrace the Apple ethos of delivering an end-to-end integrated experience?
Why can't anyone but Apple seem to deliver a complete product that surprises and delights, that is a reflection of an OBSESSION on the user and his/her aspirations?
The hard truth is that corporate politics plays a huge part in this equation.
Let me explain. Most companies are organized into "business units," and these organizational structures effectively threshold the who, what and why of a product built by that company.
Why? Because business units formalize operational "silos" within a company, which is a sure-fire recipe for delivering products that are, instituitionally-speaking, less than the sum of the parts creations.
(SIDEBAR 1: Microsoft has five business units: Windows & Windows Live; Server and Tools; Online Services; Microsoft Business; Entertainment and Devices. Talk amongst yourselves.)
(SIDEBAR 2: This silo logic is one reason that Yahoo, despite its typical user using 4-7 Yahoo services, could never actually get their own products to talk to each other.)
That's why even when you see the occasional re-org of one of these companies along the lines of "logical" buckets, like Consumer, Enterprise and Carrier, it still misses the elemental truth that users are defined by their aspirational jobs, outcomes & constraints, and not by artificial thresholds, like attributes.
It's the difference between delivering "The One" and delivering a bunch of derivative instances that are never quite as good or as complete as The One.
In other words, changing the tenor within the tech business requires more than just a different product creation process, but rather, it requires an organizational re-think.
And therein lies the challenge. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and even when a screwdriver is what is needed, the hammer can still convince itself that it's "just like a screwdriver." Such is the persusasive powers of self-interest's will to survive and persist.