Just Hire Steve Jobs

Want to design a better library? Looking for an individual to help your library achieve new levels of creativity? Are you in need of an employee who can help your library innovate like Apple? The answer to all these questions has a single simple answer. Hire Steve Jobs. Sorry if you thought I had a better answer to those questions. But what if you can’t hire Steve Jobs. Then hire someone who works closely with him.

This sounds pretty silly because no one is going to hire Steve Jobs. For one thing he has a pretty good job right now. For another, you probably couldn’t afford him. I just bring this up because I’ve now recently twice encountered this exact recommendation in different readings, of course, in a facetious way. In the book Subject to Change: Creating Great Products and Services for an Uncertain World by designers from Adaptive Path the authors write:

There are a number of ways to encourage and maintain an experiential focus throughout your development process. One way is to hire Steve Jobs as your CEO. Apple’s success in delivering satisfying experiences stems directly from Jobs’ maniacal focus on customers’ interactions with products. As CEO, he ensures that Apple delivers only the best designs.

In an article titled “Design: A Better Path to Innovation” (subscription to Interactions needed) author Nathan Shedroff, experience designer, writes:

I got a call from an editor of one of the biggest business magazines in the U.S. What he said was “We’re planning on writing a book about how business can innovate like Apple does, and I was told to talk to you about it.” My answer stumped him. “You can’t write that book”. I had to explain that, no, the book wasn’t writeable. “It would consist of one sentence: Hire Steve Jobs.” I went on to explain their type of design, usually disastrous for most companies, works only when you have a leader with ultimate authority who also happens to have a keen sense of design and amazingly accurate understanding of what customers need and want.

The point of both sources is that many businesspeople want someone who can run their organization or company like Apple, and they are looking for the secrets that make Apple what it is – one of the most innovative and forward-design thinking companies on the planet. But Shedroff makes the point that Apple, right now, has a unique perspective that is is exceedingly difficult to achieve without Jobs. As an example he gives Microsoft. They do all the right design thinking things such as ethnographic research, rapid prototyping, user testings, etc. Yet many of their products yield a bad user experience. Shedroff goes on in his article to explain how design can lead to better innovation and meaningful user experiences.

So when you realize it’s not possible to hire Steve Jobs you may want to borrow your strategy from Sony. A recent BusinessWeek article detailed how Sony is working to catch up to Apple. The CEO of Sony couldn’t hire Jobs, but he did hire a top lieutentant of Steve Jobs. But even that move hasn’t had the expected payoff just yet. So what can libraries take away from this? Well, for one thing, if you can’t hire Steven Jobs don’t worry. You can still use design thinking to develop better processes in your library that will lead to more satisfying experiences for your users. But strong leadership, as Jobs demonstrates, is at the core of innovation and risk taking. It just may be the next best thing to hiring Steve Jobs.

Marketers Consider The Value Of Design Thinking

If you are just getting interested in design thinking – and welcome to Designing Better Libraries if you are new here as well – a recent BrandWeek article could be a good read for getting up to speed on some of the basic principles behind design thinking. Titled “Thinking by Design” this article from a November 2008 issue provides a good overview, quoting design thinking gurus such as Tim Brown and Roger Martin. But the overall goal of the article is to consider whether design thinking can be of help to marketing professionals. While firms such as Procter & Gamble and Bank of America are getting good results not everyone is so sure the design thinking is anything particularly new for marketers.

The approach of the article is to discuss design thinking in three distinct phases of the process: observation, ideation and implementation. Observation is another way of describing the empathic and ethnological part of process – trying to better know the users, their needs and their challenges. In the ideation phase team members analyze what was learned in the observation phase and begin to develop prototypes that might serve as possible solutions to observed problems. Finally, in the implementation phase the prototypes shift into actual products. But what do marketers think of all this?

For some design thinking is not a particularly new concept or practice. One ad agency pro described it as “old ideas packaged with new phrases.” Those who defend design thinking remind skeptics that it’s not a panacea, but merely a process for creating positive change. It’s always good, I think, to have colleagues question the value of new ideas such as design thinking. Doing so can help to strenthen my own understanding of it and my ability to more clearly articulate to others the theory and practice of design thinking.

Shift From Stuff To Meaning Is An Opportunity For Libraries

I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Seth Godin on Oct. 28. The program was sponsored by the New Jersey Library Association, and although I had to spend 7 hours (round trip) on multiple trains getting to the program at Ramapo College in Mahway, New Jersey, I was well rewarded for my efforts. Godin is an amazing presenter and he shared insights about tribes, the subject of his most recent book (I received a copy and Godin signed it – a nice plus). I would recommend the book because it’s a good read and you’ll get a few ideas percolating. There were many librarians in the audience and I imagine they were all thinking the same thing. How do I become the leader of a tribe that will be passionate about the library.

One thing Godin told us is that you will fail if you try to create an experience for everyone. That, he said, is what the Carnegie Libraries were all about – one library for all. Instead we should focus on the different segments of the libraries community as potential tribes, for example, gamers, honor students, departmental faculty (and for the public sector  tribes can form around many interest groups or hobbyists) for whom librarians could provide leadership in acheiving better productivity or academic success. This approach also makes sense because Godin told us that tribes are insiders who “get it” (think of a tribe of Deadheads or Harley riders) and you can’t have a tribe of insiders unless there are outsiders – people who don’t belong to the tribe. So can a public or academic library have one big tribe? Who would our outsiders be since we need to be inclusive of everyone in our communities – even the people who are not regular users. But if we identify and create tribes within the overall community, sure, there could be insiders and outsiders.

But I think there is great value in exploring the tribe concept where it intersects with user experience design. Godin never specifically used the word experience to describe why people join and participate in tribes, but I believe that obtaining a unique experience is largely what tribes are about. Tribes are people connected to each other by a cause or idea – and they have a leader they follow. An idea that really resonated with me was Godin’s observations about a major societal and cultural shift that is happening, brought on to an extent by the global financial meltdown. We are placing less emphasis on the accumulation of material goods – stuff – and more importance on establishing meaningful experiences in our lives. I think this could create real opportunties for libraries.

This idea is further reinforced by two readings I came across this past week. The first comes from John Quelch a marketing professor at the Harvard Business School. He sees a new type of consumer emerging from the collapse of the mass consumption of the last decade. Now, says Quelch, more people want to declutter their lives and invest in experiences rather than things. He refers to this new consumer as the “Simplifier”. Of the four characteristics of the Simplifiers one is of particular relevance: “they want to collect experiences, not possessions..experiences do not tie you down, require no maintenance and permit variety seeking instincts to be quickly satisfied”. Then I came across an essay by Umair Haque, also affiliated with HBS, in which he writes about the coming economic crisis and why traditional recession tactics won’t work. He writes that the over-consumption era is finished, and that consumer purchases cannot be counted on to revive the economy. He sees a new competitive advantage based on the capacity for tolerance and difference, one that accrues to all and not just hyper-driven corporations. Is this another way of saying that creating meaning could be a new competitive advantage?

There is a growing school of thought in user experience design that promotes the idea of the experience as being about creating something meaningful for people, something that gives them intrisic value that can help them lead a better life. If what Godin, Quelch and Haque see on the horizon comes to fruition then I believe that libraries of all types will be well positioned to deliver the type of experience that will deliver meaning to people. Of course, to capitalize we have to understand how to design an experience that delivers meaning to the community. Business as usual is not likely to get us there. I gave a talk about user experience a few months ago, and I was describing this idea of the experience as making meaning for people. A librarian spoke up and explained how students came to visit her in her office for assistance with research. Nothing that unusual, but she related how that made the students feel good about having someone provide them with personal, caring help.From her perspective that was how she created meaning in their lives. It was great and I responded that SHE was the library experience – that the user community derived meaning from her support. She didn’t create or give “stuff”. She delivered a meaningful experience.

Could it be that librarians can be the leaders of tribes in our communities that seek us out for the meaning we can provide to them? As Godin said to us at the end of his talk, “This is your obligation. You must market by leading. You have no choice”.