What I learnt from reading the Jony Ive Bio

I just finished a great biography by Leander Kahney on Jonathan Ive the brilliant mind behind the product design of groundbreaking apple products like the iMac, iPhone, iPod and iPad.

It’s an excellent view into both the way Jony Ive thinks about design, and user experience, and how Apple adopted his methods, and built a team culture and leadership art centered around it.

One of the philosophies that is made quite clear in the book is that Jony immerses himself in the user needs and expectations when he is designing – before writing the story that will dictate the concept of a product. Steve Jobs was well known for telling partners and employees of Apple; that customers do not know what they want and so it’s Apples job to tell them.

I don’t think Jony Ive shared this same mentality. His view, was that customers do in fact know what they want and that it is a designer’s job to help them communicate this, through a lifetime of iterative product designs which the customer can experience, and ultimately build trust in the brand that their needs are being met.

Jony Ive and Apple push boundaries. Their commitment to reversing the product design process to allow design and user experience to dictate operations, and engineering, was their true innovation. This is what allowed them to claw back from being within the grasps of bankruptcy, to be one of the most successful companies in history, in just over a decade.

Every advertising company will tell you that at least one new client a week tells them they want to look and feel just like Apple. We all use their products, and we all read the articles and books published in their honour. Yet very few of the major brands out there have the same commitment to innovation that Apple do.

Having spent majority of my career in Financial Services, I can tell you that there is not one brand that has inspired me like Apple has, nor have I seen a commitment from an organisation in the industry, to change their operating model so drastically that it has re-written history.

With the amount of business change happening at the moment due to the technology industry providing greater connectivity, transparency and automation, why are there no standout brands re-writing history in the way Apple did, with its product design from the very late 90’s to the year the iPad came out in 2010?

Banking has remained the same for over 50 years. Sure we have created some new innovative products and our operational efficiency gains have been rapid due to the introduction of the Internet, but really has much changed from a customer experience point of view across lending, transacting and managing wealth?

My questions are important because like it or not customer needs change, but they do know what they want. Like Apple, it is up to the leadership of companies to foster a culture that strives to inspire with design and user experience first, and only then followed by operations and engineering.

If you believe that your company can not do this because of cost constraints or change management challenges, then it’s time to give up now otherwise you are just delaying the inevitable – which is your customers walk away never to return!

A quote out of Kahney’s book “The thing is, its very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better” – Jony Ive

That is the challenge to organisations wanting to build a successful future. My advice to leaders who are concerned with the amount of change and where to start is simply this; JUST START!

Strategy and execution on the path to Digital

Over the past 6 months I have been absorbed in research around where the business world is at with regards to transitioning to digital. It is safe to say that digital is probably the most overused word at the moment and it means very different things to different people. Digital could be seen as a buzz word but I like to think of it as a reference to the movement from old to new.

Digital is not just about technology, it is not just about creating efficiency and it is not a summary word for mobile or online. Digital is all of these things and more.

The transition to digital is re-imagining a world where there is greater connectivity, greater value in the interaction between supplier and customer and greater value in using technological advancement as a vehicle for change.

My most interesting observation over the past 6 months has been that big business is struggling to cope with transition to digital far more than the small business’ and startups. You would think this is obvious given how much more complex the challenge faced by big business is. However I do not believe complexity is behind why there is such a struggle.

After consultation with a number of large organisations it is clear that one of their biggest challenges is not only how to get started, but importantly, who owns this transition to digital? Is it technology, marketing, product, operations or a new breed of capability all together known as “Mr or Mrs Innovation”?

Smaller businesses tend to have one or a few people responsible for all these departments and therefore the mission is just to get in and get the job done. The big businesses on the other hand want to plan, plan, plan. They want to clearly define the map before they start, when the truth is, in this new world all you have is a compass there are no maps yet.*

Eric Ries‘ book The Lean Startup shows us that this method of defining the perfect plan with all the hypothetical assumptions driving a big bang transformation, is far less effective than breaking down these hypothetical assumptions and testing them via a series of experiments, before wading into the depths of transformation. This is difficult for big business who want to believe that there is a definitive start and end date to a transformation. They equally want to believe that there is a definitive budget that can be signed off. The fact is with technology, customer demand and emerging markets changing so quickly, these definitive plans are like a ball and chain weighing down an organisations ability to thrive in the new digital world.

It is clear to me that large organisations need the support and leadership of an advice group who is charged with regularly challenging the assumptions and old process methods, as well as educating the business leaders through the journey to a new digital existence.

The advice group needs to be made up of people who would be considered themselves early adopters. There must be a healthy balance of technology, design, creative, operational and finance/legal representation in the advice group. There must also be an influential leader preferably from outside the organisation who has the ability to link all these personalities together and challenge the challengers.

The key is to remember that customer trends and emerging markets are moving at such a pace, that knowing your customers present and future demands can no longer be solely via statistical research and bench marking. This means that strategy is moving on from the old SWOT analysis planning with a big bang delivery, and being replaced by experimental planning directly involving target customers supported by fast paced, iterative releases of always evolving products and services.

*I did steal this reference of compasses and maps from a truly inspirational leader in the digital and change space, Joi Ito – Director of the MIT Media Lab. If you have not heard of Joi, I encourage you to watch his TED talk Want to innovate? Become a “now-ist”