Everyone has thoughts.
Writing them down makes them powerful.
I’m starting a series of posts notionally titled “First Thought.” The premise is there is one important news item of the last week–a big “move” in the innovation space–that I highlight and dissect, sharing some initial thinking the following Monday. In this, my inaugural First Thought post, I’ve decided to do a bit more highlighting and a little bit less dissecting.
As we now enter week 4 of the “Post-Jobs Era”, I couldn’t help but reflect on what an absolute powerhouse Steve Jobs has been in the worlds of innovation, technology and design. As Walter Isaacson notes in his recently released biography of Jobs, Steve was a man who, “revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.” People the world over have found inspiration in his thinking, his words and, of course, his products.
One man though–Jonathan “Jony” Ive–had the unique opportunity to work with Steve Jobs in a 15 year partnership that produced many of the world’s most iconic products during that time: iMac, iPhone, Macbook Air, iPad, among others. While no one would question Ive’s part in that success, he himself admits and recognizes Jobs’ powerful vision and inspiration.
It was all too fitting that Ive’s speech–tweeted as “sublime” by Kontra–in Apple’s “A Celebration to Steve’s Life” focused on how Jobs inspired and conspired to bring new creations into the world. Many people say they want to make something great, but few really understand what that means.
Rather than support or critique a shift in the market, I decided I would hand my first “First Thought” over to Jony Ive by taking the time to transcribe and share his speech.
With that, Jonathan “Jony” Ive, Senior Vice President of Design, Apple on Steve Jobs:
You know Steve used to say to me, and he used to say this a lot, “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.” And sometimes they were. Really dopey. Sometimes, they were truly dreadful. But sometimes they took the air from the room and they left us both completely silent.
Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet simple ones, which in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.
And just as Steve loved ideas and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.
You know I loved the way he listened so intently. I loved his perception, his remarkable sensitivity and his surgically precise opinion. I really believe there was a beauty in how singular and how keen his insight was. Even though sometime it could sting.
As I’m sure many of you know, Steve didn’t confine his excellence to making products. You know when we travelled together, we would check in and I would go up to my room. And I would leave my bag very neatly by the door, and I wouldn’t unpack. And I would go sit on the bed. I would go sit on the bed next to the phone. And I would wait for the inevitable phone call, “Hey Jony, this hotel sucks. Let’s go.”
He used to joke that the lunatics had taken over the asylum as we shared a giddy excitement spending months and months working on a part of a product that nobody would ever see, or not with their eyes. But we did it because we really believed it was right... because we cared. He believed there was a gravity, almost a sense of civic responsibility to care way beyond any sort of functional imperative.
Now while the work hopefully appeared inevitable, appeared simple and easy, it really cost. It cost us all, didn’t it? But you know what, it cost him most. He cared the most. He worried the most deeply. He constantly questioned, “Is this good enough? Is this right?”
And despite all his successes, his achievements, he never presumed, he never assumed we would get there in the end. When the ideas didn’t come and when the prototypes failed, it was with great intent, with faith he decided to believe, we would eventually make something great.
But the joy of getting there. I loved his enthusiasm, his simple delight, often I think mixed with some relief, but that, “Yeah, we got there. We got there in the end and it was good.” You can see his smile can’t you.
The celebration of making something great for everybody. Enjoying the defeat of cynicism, the rejection of reason, the rejection of being told one hundred times, “You can’t do that.” So his, I think, was a victory for beauty, for purity and, as he would say, “For giving a damn.”
He was my closest and my most loyal friend. We worked together for nearly fifteen years and he still laughed at the way I said,
For the past two weeks, I think we’ve all been struggling to find ways to say goodbye. This morning, I simply want to end by saying, “Thank you Steve.” Thank you for your remarkable vision which has united and inspired this extraordinary group of people. For all that we have learned from you and for all that we will continue to learn from each other, thank you Steve.
If you would like to watch Jony Ive share his thoughts about Steve in video, skip ahead to 48:15 in Apple’s “A Celebration of Steve’s Life”.
While not a naturally gifted wordsmith, weaving a tale or constructing a written logical argument brought me a lot of satisfaction as a child. I pushed writing in my spare time outside of public school by creating fantasy worlds and crafting my own Dungeons and Dragons adventure modules. These were good times filled with no expectations and an air of unlimited possibility.
As I entered into adulthood at the University of Chicago, I was forced to write–I wrote over 120 pages in 10 weeks–and, while challenging, really enjoyed it. I entered school assuming I would graduate to be a book-writing professor and practicing Doctor of Psychology. I left school having fell in love with design yet not really knowing what that meant.
I spent the next decade practicing design, learning what it meant, and ultimately attending the IIT Institute of Design (ID) to hone my craft and understanding. Graduating from the ID in 2007, I was writing as much as ever as I co-wrote Naked Innovation with friend and colleague, David McGaw, and also began penning a blog on this website. My writing was fluid, focusing primarily on my areas of expertise–innovation, strategy and design–and I was receiving good feedback. It was fun.
The main reasons I wrote (note: these could be principles of writing for anyone):
Writing forces you to really understand something.
If you’re not there to explain a concept in person, you better be clear with how you convey it. Writing enabled me to unpack innovation, strategy and design in a way that a conversation never could.
Writing enabled the consideration of thought outside of industries required in my day-to-day work.
While I may be focused on a client industry–retail, for example–writing let me think about other industries, meta-topics in the practice of user experience and also tap into one of my three personal obsessions: innovation, evolution and visualization (more on these later).
Writing enabled me to flex linguistic and intrapersonal types of learning.
More specifically, it helped me wrestle with the English language and learn a little bit more about myself.
I wrote on this blog, wrote as a part of speaking and wrote Naked Innovation, with plans for writing other books.
Then one day, I just stopped.
I went cold turkey. I didn’t specifically know why. Initially, I thought it was because I had just become too busy. The life of a road-warrior-consultant makes it easy to justify chopping just about everything that’s good for you out of your life: relationships, eating well, exercise or writing. Writing was just one activity too many and didn’t seem fun anymore.
First weeks, then months passed. After a bit more reflection, I came to find the real reason why I stopped writing.
User experience architect and author Mike Kuniavsky’s recent tweet summed up what I was feeling:
There are so many people writing, talking, speaking and tweeting, it’s a cacophony of sameness. My interests around innovation, strategy and design have become obsessive topics written about by obsessed individuals. The self-aggrandizing nature of it all, with a lack of real criticism, became a little wearying.
In the end, I questioned what else I really had to add. By regularly reading the work of Adam Richardson, Alex Osterwalder, Arne van Oosterom, Bruce Nussbaum, Chris Anderson, the great Clayton Christensen, Diego Rodriguez, Helen Walters, Horace Dediu, John Gruber, Kontra, Larry Keeley, Peter Merholz and the Adaptive Path crew, among others, what was the point? It was easy to be a sponge. It was easy to be lazy. It was easy to have a sharp point of view in person and then not follow that up with deeper thinking shared in the open.
In the end, people reflect and move on. People have opinions and change their minds. People stop being lazy. I’ve decided to start writing again.
To make a contribution, I’m going to be less critical of incremental thinking and recognize leading thinking itself is mostly evolutionary in nature. Unlike innovation which dictates an idea be realized and brought to scale, collective wisdom grows over time with many people sharing overlapping thoughts. Thinking ebbs and flows until action brings a notion into more concrete reality. Evidence around multiple or simultaneous discovery and filmmaker Kirby Ferguson’s great work illustrating that Everything is a Remix is pushing me back into the (re)mix.
I plan on three different types of writing here at /creativeslant. First, thought pieces about my field: innovation, strategy and design. Second, I also know some wicked smart, cool people that I would like to interview, talk shop and share their thinking with world. Finally, I’m starting a series of posts notionally titled “First Thought.” The premise is there is one important news item of the last week–a big “move” in the innovation space–that I highlight and dissect, sharing some initial thinking each Monday. It should be fun (again).
With that, let’s get to it...
Back in January of 2007, in my final semester as a graduate student at the IIT Institute of Design, colleague David McGaw and I set out to write a 13 chapter book on innovation in 8 weeks, edit and design it over the next month and self-publish in a limited way while seeking a formal, traditional distribution deal. There have been a few unexpected twists and turns along the way but I'm proud to say Naked Innovation has been consistently used in higher education, in dozens of Fortune 500 companies and in government throughout the world. Thousands of copies have been read by innovators over the globe. We’ve received a wealth of positive feedback and many have asked when the book would be formally published and more widely available.
After what has seemed like an eternity, I have finally brushed the dust off Naked Innovation and am pushing it forward with a couple of my colleagues in London. In fact, we're planning something a lot bigger than traditional publishing as we ask YOU, the innovation community, to partake in a grand crowd-sourced critique and edit of the content.
The idea is to evolve NakedInnovation.com from something purely static and promotional to a platform for discussing the innovation process. As we’ve constructed the book Naked Innovation around a generalized innovation process itself, the platform will also be constructed around it:
Some sections of the site will focus on Big Ideas about innovation with others on the more practical applications of theory through innovation methods. The content of the book in its current format will act as our gift to aid the discussion. At the moment, we're thinking we’ll release one chapter every two weeks or so with some initial critical thoughts on what’s missing or doesn’t make sense five years since its writing. Ongoing discourse about the innovation process and critique of Naked Innovation specifically will be open and unmoderated (within reason).
We’re looking to launch this new platform around the turn of the year in mid-2012. Eventually, we do hope to take the discussion and critique to heart and revise the book by the end of next year. While we’re working on getting the new discussion platform up and running, you can still download the Introduction as well as buy copies of the book here through blurb: Naked Innovation. The quality is actually great and we’ve priced it at cost.