A faster horse


I’ve just completed the Steve Jobs biography – what a read. I could hardly put it down. Amazing, inspiring, fascinating, a warts and all bio of genius with a flawed personality. I would have hated to have worked with him, but then loved it at the same time.

I bet many people got it as a Christmas present, as I did. Steve died in October, the book came out the same month, and it would have been on many lists. As I try to absorb the 571 pages and 56 years of history, I am struck by various gems I stumbled over. At the very end, in his own words, he tries to explain his philosophy on life and business.

At one stage he admits that he never listened to market research. Only this week at work I was asked to research an idea I had for my business unit – a natural thing to ask. Jobs paid no attention to research. “Our job was to figure out what people were going to want before they knew they wanted it.” This would never come from market research. We didn’t know we wanted the iPod until Apple brought it out and said: “Hey look guys, a thousand songs in your pocket!”. We didn’t know we wanted a mobile phone we could carry around with us that would make calls, access internet, emails, and download little software programs (apps) that meant we could customise it to what we wanted (iPhone). We didn’t know we wanted a scaled down pint sized laptop with no keyboard or USB connection (iPad). Yet it turned out to be a category killer. Apple went from being 7% of the value of Microsoft to 70% higher than Microsoft and the world’s highest capped company.

He explains it this way: “If Henry Ford had researched the market (before he brought out the car), the research would have come back with – ‘They want faster horses!'” Steve Jobs was the not the only person who worked in this way. Legend has it that Sony’s research in 1979 unequivocally showed that people would not like a portable cassette player that could only be listened to my headphones. People wanted bigger HiFis with large speakers. “No”, said the Sony boss, “People are bored, they will love this when it comes out.” He was right. The ice hockey player Wayne Gretsky said the same thing in his own way: “skate to where the puck will be, not where it is.”

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