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.

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