Tips & Tricks

Learn to connect the dots

It is over three months since the passing of Apple’s Iconic leader Steve Jobs. There have been many things written about him and I am certain as we look for and analyze the secrets of his success there will be much more written. I will not pretend to have any special insights but in sticking with our most recent themes I will attempt to explore Steve Jobs creativity. Was Steve Jobs a creative genius or was he a guy who knew how to really jam? As Picasso impacted the art world so did Steve Jobs impact our day to day lives and lead an industry, but was he creative and if so how?

Looking at some history we see that the Graphic Viewer Interface and the Mouse that made the McIntosh such a game changer was developed at Xerox and not at Apple. IPod was in response to the clunky or small and useless digital media players of the day, when it was introduced critics screamed at the $400 price tag and the odd circular touch controls but they would hold 1,000 songs and you could download all your CD’s or buy individual songs for 99 cents. The name was inspired by the Line, “Open the pod bay door Hal” from 2001: A Space Odyssey and was incorporated by a freelance copywriter on contract with Apple specifically to introduce IPod to the market. That is not original but possibly creative but not Steve’s idea. IPad was pulled out of development because they saw that IPhone was going to be the next step and iPhone’s success was really driven by really low or no cost apps that were from developers outside of Apple. Of course some of this was planned but how much and was it creative or really just getting on a rodeo bull and hanging on?

Was Jobs working on the engineering of these products? Not really, in one quote he states his job was to “provide and protect the environment where people can be creative.” And of course he had several design and engineering groups all over Apple and he oversaw the whole enterprise and was reputed as a bit of a Micro Manager. As with most CEO’s Steve drove the vision of the company and its products and even more so he drove his customers wild. He once said, “If you design and build what the customer wants today they will probably want something else tomorrow.” So you definitely have to look down the pike and this is what I believe maybe the source of his creativity. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” said Wayne Gretzky and Jobs lead Apple with this philosophy.

So how did he do this how did he take Apple where others had not been before? “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” And this approach seems a bit capricious doesn’t it? If you have ever done business projection you know the “dots” in the past point to the “dots” out there in the future. And if you look at current trends and market forces etc. you have data that will help you tweak where the future “dots” will appear. These are the norm for business practices and what most of us will follow but Steve was different, he didn’t march with the heard. On the map with all the “dots’ past and future Steve probably saw where the heard was going, where convention dictated and what was a prudent course and maybe he asked, “What if?” I think Steve saw a different path and only looked at his “dots” verses the heard. And he took others ideas and improved on them. Simon was the first smart phone introduced in1992 by IBM. Palm Pilot put your contact database in your hand they had a phone soon after. Steve didn’t like the stylus’ he felt that we already had one called a finger and that little philosophical idea aka, “dot” made all the difference with the iPod, iPhone and naturally the iPad. Not a big difference.

It is said if you drove a straight line from New York to San Francisco it is about 3000 miles. Move the steering wheel 1/8th on an inch to the left and you’re in Mexico. Just a little bit not much will cause such a radical change. I think Steve at times could see that that 1/8 of an inch would take them far from convention and either saw or trusted that the ‘dots” would be there and he was right. One “dot” he learned from another “Creative” marketer from the world of golf, Ely Callaway. When Ely introduced the Big Bertha Driver it was revolutionary in design. Most everyone thought this new design would be priced at a few dollars above the rest of the pack and that it would fail soon, Ely didn’t do that. He priced the Big Bertha not $20 but $200 over the competitions price and they flew out of the stores! The same thing happened with the “i” product line for Steve. Both products weren’t really radically different but they were different none the less but perception drove them further and taking the risk to go against the tendency to price product as low as possible definitely bucks the norm and that is marketing creativity and daring at its finest!

In his later years Steve was more about facilitating others creativity and he found his creative path as a visionary and leader. “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have a faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” His goal was to facilitate the atmosphere where others in Apple could be able to be creative without restraints. Yes he was known for micromanaging a bit but I am certain the engineers and designers were stressed to “get er done” vs. worrying about budgets. He moved the “dots” within Apple very well. He was also very grounded in a reality many of us do not want to face, our own mortality and what it means, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” From this we can gather that much of what he did was based more on what he liked to do vs. what he had to do. The results of this may be seen here, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.” And from the desire to do what he liked Steve and his company gave us the innovations that have changed the world. And maybe Steve did like out running the big guys R & D departments in those earlier days too!

All of us involved in e-Learning are in one way shape or form one of Steve’s “dots”! Steve predicted that “Computers and Software will change how we learn” and all of us are the ones doing this now. Let’s look at it this way we’re all like the engineers and scientists who responded to the challenge laid down by John F. Kennedy, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” During that era we were discovering and learning new things at a fast pace that has not stopped accelerating. I remember a projection form 1983 that what we knew then would be only 17% of the knowledge we would have by 2000. That is staggering when you think about and the demands to stay current are demanding on our audience, the learner and on those who must design courses and everybody needs to try and keep up! In some areas the content being taught is becoming obsolete by the time the courses are finished and to the other extreme we are stressed to find anything new since the knowledge base has been static for 40 years or more. Both situations take imagination and creativity to either engage or just plain keep up! So now we must learn to create at a rapid pace because those who are learning have to learn at a rapid pace just to keep up. The demands are high and the challenge is to be creative and “go where no “dot” has gone before”, forgive the Star Trek parody.

Creating new and invigorating learning experiences for our clients who are learning just to keep pace with all the changes that are taking place is a demanding enough task. We learn from Steve Jobs’ example that if we follow the “dots” from the past logically we could be in trouble. We need to think with more creativity and daring to insure our future. Now more than ever is when we need thinkers and doers with the audacity of a Steve Jobs to help us explore just where e-Learning, M-Learning, GBL etc. can take us. All of us are on the cutting edge of what Steve and others like him saw years ago. I for one look forward to facing the challenge before us all. How about you?

About the author

Tom Burton