Full disclaimer: I do not work at Apple. I never worked at Apple. Nor do I play an Apple exec on TV.
I have thought long and hard about what it takes to create something like an iPhone, though. To create a product that people will love.
Not in terms of the technologies, like touchscreen and virtual keyboards and app stores. But in terms of focus, skills, psychology.
Here’s my view on what it takes to create a product that people will LOVE.
1. GET EMPATHY
That ability to stand in another person’s shoes, and feel what they feel. The geeks who build products need to internalize that most people don’t like fiddling with gadgets to get them to work. They don’t like reading instructions. They don’t like gadgets that make them feel stupid. They simply want to do something: look up a phone number, read the news, read reviews of the new U2 album NLOTH, check their email, watch a video clip, share photos of their kids.
2. PAY ATTENTION
Every time a child or a new user or a friend says, “I wish I could—” is a potential opportunity to help your customers in a new and useful way. Listen. Really listen.
3. IGNORE THE COPYCATS OF THE WORLD
If you’re building a product that people will love, that probably means you’re doing something that hasn’t been done before. Which means you have to persuade—or ignore—the copycats. Some people can’t see the potential for an idea unless you can prove its worth in advance. They’ll actually say, “But that hasn’t been done before. Surely, if the idea were any good—” What an epic failure of imagination!
4. IT’S OK IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST TIME
Everyone has a first time. Just because you haven’t yet created a product that people love doesn’t mean that you can’t, or that you won’t. All it means is that you haven’t done it yet. That’s ok. You’ve been getting ready. Making your mistakes. Getting prepared. Dreaming about it.
5. FORM A CRYSTAL CLEAR VISION, AND THEN COMMUNICATE IT—WELL
You’ll need a clear vision of how you want to help people. And the vision must not be expressed in terms of component technology: you don’t want to “build a better mobile internet device with touchscreen internet browsing capabilities and an integrated ITunes-enabled music player”. Ick ick ick!
The vision needs to focus on the customer: “I want to help people stay connected. In an easy-as-pie way—that delights them. Without instruction manuals. With this end result: they will not need to lug around phone, laptop, camera, dvd-player, and iPod to stay connected to their peeps and their media.” And since we know that not everything is invented here, let’s give other creators a way to make this thing even more useful, with an app store.
6. LISTEN TO YOURSELF AT YOUR MOST CREATIVE
In the shower. Driving. Walking. If you let yourself wake up slowly, and without an alarm, those moments in the morning when you’re half-awake and half-asleep are incredibly powerful: that’s when you get whacky ideas that your rational mind would immediately surpress during the day. Keep a pencil and paper on your nightstand. And whenever you have a good idea—or a whacky one—write it down!
7. FIND CONNECTIONS BETWEEN THE VIRTUAL AND REAL WORLDS
Can you see that shopping on a website should be as easy and intuitive as shopping in a bricks and mortar store? That reading on a Kindle should be as easy to do on a beach as on a plane as in bed, just as it is with a paperback book? That signing a love-letter written on the computer with your own personal signature should be as easy as signing a love-letter than you typed on an old fashioned computer?
8. LOOK FOR YES
You have to look for yes, look for how something can be done and not why it can’t. There will be a million problems, a ton of reasons why you can’t make things easy for your customers. But in the end it all comes down to a choice: will you make things easier for your customers, or easier for your business? You have to be willing to solve the tough problems, and ignore all the naysayers muttering about why things cannot be done.
9. HAVE CONFIDENCE
You’ll need confidence to ignore the copycats and the skeptics. You need to ooze it. Be absolutely sure that what you’re doing will help people, and will change their lives. Drink the kool-aid. Stay true to your vision. Can’t you just imagine Steve Jobs slamming his fist on a conference table when presented with reasons why something can’t be done? Jeff Bezos sent the Kindle team back to the drawing board more than once, when he felt it wasn’t ready for prime time. And I can just imagine Marissa Mayer’s eye-roll when presented with wording she thinks won’t work: right or wrong, she’s sure of herself. Remember the age-old words of Watty Piper: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.
10. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH BRILLIANT & TALENTED PEOPLE
People who love their work. People who are different from each other. People who are smarter than you! People who can disagree with you. People who want to change people’s lives. People who are not in a rush to get home and watch TV. And then—this is the important part—treat them well.
11. DON’T BE AFRAID OF WHACKY IDEAS
What’s whacky today is tomorrow’s innovation. Play the “what-if” game. What if we created a phone that would let you be productive on the train ride to work, so you could leave your laptop at home? What if we helped you turn those idle minutes in the grocery store checkout line into something more productive than reading the gossip magazines? What if we were to build a phone that people could love more than sex?
12. HAVE PATIENCE
Great, truly great, products take time to create, just like a fine wine. You’ll have to iterate. Prototype. Test it with real customers. Redo. Know this: needing to redo something is not a failure! Failing to redo something is a failure: it’s called giving up. The old saw comes to mind: “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again.”
13. REMEMBER THAT TIME IS MONEY
Benjamin Franklin said it, and I say it again. Remember that time is money. If you have the vision and persuasive power to build a product that will change the world, eventually everyone will want a piece of you. God knows I’ve made the mistake of giving everyone else the help they need–everyone but me and my product, that is! Long before Randy Pausch become famous for his Last Lecture and his inspiring fight with cancer, Randy gave a fabulous talk on time management. Read it. Watch it. Live it.
14. STAY FOCUSED
Don’t forget that crystal clear vision of how you will help people. Look at it every morning. Don’t get distracted. Figure out what it’s going to take to get from here to there, and get the right team in place to help you do it. Then do it.
And whatever you do: Don’t let the bastards wear you down.