Monthly Archives: October 2011

Thinking Different Differently

Following up on my last post, please read the entire Walter Isaacson article in the New York Times.  Interesting distinction that he makes between different types of genius, Gates and Jobs, and Jobs and Einstein.  Also, an interesting anecdote of how Jobs handled the “brainteasers” that so many employers of smart people are so fond of.  Here is an excerpt:

So was Mr. Jobs smart? Not conventionally. Instead, he was a genius. That may seem like a silly word game, but in fact his success dramatizes an interesting distinction between intelligence and genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. They were sparked by intuition, not analytic rigor. Trained in Zen Buddhism, Mr. Jobs came to value experiential wisdom over empirical analysis. He didn’t study data or crunch numbers but like a pathfinder, he could sniff the winds and sense what lay ahead.

He told me he began to appreciate the power of intuition, in contrast to what he called “Western rational thought,” when he wandered around India after dropping out of college. “The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do,” he said. “They use their intuition instead … Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

Mr. Jobs’s intuition was based not on conventional learning but on experiential wisdom. He also had a lot of imagination and knew how to apply it. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Emotional Awareness: Management and Design

Walter Isaacson in today’s New York Times on Steve Jobs’ talent for tapping into people’s emotions for better or worse, in human relations, people management, and product design:

The ability to merge creativity with technology depends on one’s ability to be emotionally attuned to others. Mr. Jobs could be petulant and unkind in dealing with other people, which caused some to think he lacked basic emotional awareness. In fact, it was the opposite. He could size people up, understand their inner thoughts, cajole them, intimidate them, target their deepest vulnerabilities, and delight them at will. He knew, intuitively, how to create products that pleased, interfaces that were friendly, and marketing messages that were enticing.

Jony Ive: The Fragility of An Idea

The most chilling part of the Steve Jobs memorial was Jony Ive’s remarks, these in particular (thanks to Fortune for the transcription):

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.

Ready Or Not, Here I Come

There is an opportunity for the young – in age or spirit – to conquer old-line industries, and, in doing so, to create challenging and entrepreneurial setting for themselves.  Each situation provides a freeway route to be a leader, do better, and give back to customers at a very young age without waiting for your time to come.  If you wait for your time to come, besides the wait, your interests become aligned with the system, eliminating the possibility of challenge.  Any old-line industry with profits is a candidate.  The less entrepreneurial the industry the better; as an aging aristocracy typically stands in the way of new ideas.  Think disruptive innovation — your initial product might look like a toy, but this is the beachhead for where the attack comes from, in plain sight, but disrespected and disregarded by the old guard.

Amazon: Journey of Billions in Sales Starts With a Few Books

Fascinating account of the early days of Amazon excerpted in the WSJ from an upcoming book:

Thanks to discounts of 10% to 30%, orders started coming in as soon as the site launched. At first, there were a half-dozen orders per day. One of the programmers set up the computers so that a bell would ring every time an order came in. A great novelty at first, it quickly got annoying and had to be turned off.

Three days after launch, Mr. Bezos got an email from Jerry Yang, one of the founders of Yahoo. “Jerry said, ‘We think your site is pretty cool; would you like us to put it on the What’s Cool page?’ ” Mr. Bezos later recalled. “We thought about it some, and we realized it might be like taking a sip from a fire hose, but we decided to go ahead and go for it.” Yahoo put the site on the list, and orders soared.

By the end of the week, Amazon took in over $12,000 worth of orders. It was hard to keep up. That week, the company shipped just $846 worth of books. The following week brought in nearly $15,000 worth of orders, and the team was able to ship just over $7,000 worth of them.

I’ll say it again; what Bezos has done with his initial book platform is something to behold.

More Serendipity at FourSquare

FourSquare announced Radar this week.  This seems to be a step toward a serendipity platform using the social layer, in the direction of services that I have been discussing in the last few weeks.  I speculated that FourSquare could do more in this regard.  I am hoping that it develops in two directions: first, prompting you to meet folks that you don’t already know to meet based on indicators that say that you should meet and second, tapping into social data on other sites to make more sophisticated judgments about who those people are including what the point of connection might be.

Better Covers: Borrowing To Originality

Another lesson from Steve Jobs on innovating groundbreaking and original products: borrow, simplify, and perfect existing ideas at the perfect time.  This runs through everything that Apple has done (and done better): the computer, the MP3 player, the smartphone, the tablet.

From BusinessWeek:

Of course Jobs, like most artists, also borrowed liberally from the work of others. People credit him as an inventor akin to Edison, but his real genius was seizing upon existing concepts, simplifying and perfecting them, and then putting them forward at exactly the right moment. The iPad was perhaps the best example. Tablets running Microsoft software debuted in 2000 and went nowhere; they were really stripped-down PCs, complex and difficult to use.

From the Economist:

As a technologist, Mr Jobs was different because he was not an engineer—and that was his great strength. Instead he was obsessed with product design and aesthetics, and with making advanced technology simple to use. He repeatedly took an existing but half-formed idea—the mouse-driven computer, the digital music player, the smartphone, the tablet computer—and showed the rest of the industry how to do it properly. Rival firms scrambled to follow where he led. In the process he triggered upheavals in computing, music, telecoms and the news business that were painful for incumbent firms but welcomed by millions of consumers.

My, No I Mean Your 30%!

Inevitably, the various platforms and their monetization schemes were destined to clash, as the platforms intersect and overlap with each other.  This is happening now.

In the last two days, Facebook released its iPad app, linking two of the most powerful platforms out there, both charging rent to the apps for distribution on its platforms.  One platform is playing hardball with another.  Apple is not allowing Facebook to use Facebook Credits, so Apple can take the 30% cut of any commerce done through the iOS rather than Facebook taking its cut.

Relatedly, payers of the rent, are looking to own.  Today, Zynga announced Project Z, in an effort to go direct to consumers instead of through Facebook and consequently to avoid paying the 30% Facebook Credits cut.

Sean Parker: Problem Selection

A nice profile of Sean Parker in Forbes:

Parker is drawn to big, universal problems and spends years looking for them. “Most of us kind of agree on the thrust of history. The key is to understand how we get there,” says the young billionaire in the office of his recently purchased $20 million Manhattan town house. “The transition strategies are more important than understanding what the outcome state will be.”

By focusing on problem selection, rather than rushing out an innovation no one wants like so many trigger-happy entrepreneurs, Parker put himself in position for the string of blockbusters that his critics blithely attribute to sequential luck. Napster was the transition between CDs and MP3s after the Internet made it possible to strip content from its container. Facebook was a vehicle to create a reliable identity in an anonymous online world. Spotify is an attempt to fix the very music industry that Napster helped break a decade before. “He thinks about where he perceives the world to be going,” says Spotify founder Daniel Ek. “If he doesn’t think there is a company that will win, then he builds it himself.”


Thus, Parker’s life becomes impervious to time. Peter Thiel calls it Parker’s “absence of dramatic punctuality.” When focused on a task, he blocks everything else out and works himself into a trance. The outside world fades; time slips away. “It requires a lot of rescheduling, but I try to focus on things that are the highest value and get those done perfectly.”

Steve Jobs: Simplicity and Complexity II

Finding the “Simplicity and Complexity” idea in the old words of Steve Jobs, from the Wired obituary, where he points out how behind the beautiful design of Apple products is incredible engineering .

In 2000, he explained how competitors still didn’t understand Apple’s mix of art and science. “When people look at an iMac, they think the design is really great, but most people don’t understand it’s not skin deep,” he said. “There’s a reason why, after two years, people haven’t been able to copy the iMac. It’s not just surface. The reason the iMac doesn’t have a fan is engineering. It took a ton of engineering and that’s true for the Cube and everything else.”