Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs
St. Martin’s Press (September 2018)
How and why, in order to “understand what makes Apple what it is, its essence, you need to understand software”
According to Ken Kocienda, “working in the Apple style is not a matter of following a checklist of ‘essential elements,'” although he focuses on eight elements. More about them in a moment. OK, then what is the “Apple Way”? Kocienda: “We developed our approach to creating great software…an approach I call creative selection.” (See Page 5 for a brief description of that approach.) Steve Jobs was obsessed with developing a company that created only products that were “insanely great,” not only in terms of functions, features, and capabilities but also in aesthetic terms and how the products were packaged. Great software is the core competency on which all others depend.
None of the eight elements is a head-snapping revelation: Inspiration, Collaboration, Craft, Diligence, Decisiveness, Taste, and Empathy. They are among the values that all great companies affirm. In the Apple culture, they are a way of life. “We mixed together our eight essential elements, and we formulated ‘molecules’ out of them, like mixing inspiration and decisiveness to create initial prototypes, or by combining collaboration, craft, and taste to give detailed feedback to a teammate, or when we blended diligence and empathy in our constant effort to make software that people could use without pulling their hair out.”
Moreover, according to Kocienda, “As we did all this mixing and combining [as well as integrating] our seven essential elements, we always added in a personal touch, a little piece of ourselves, an octessence, and by putting together our goals and ideas and efforts and elements and molecules and personal touches, we formed an approach I call [as previously indicated] creative selection.”
In essence, the process removes all distractions in order to focus attention where it needs to be.”Start approximating your end goal [designing an effective autocorrection iPad keyboard feature] as soon as possible. Maximize the impact of your most difficult effort. Combine inspiration, decisiveness, and craft to make demos.”
Keep in mind that, within the Apple culture, perfection and “insanely great” are the core values of a mindset and a process, not an ultimate destination. Also, it is an immensely difficult journey for even the “best and brightest” of pilgrims.
I learned more about this approach in Chapters 2 and 3, especially when Kocienda explains the step-by-step development of Safari, Apple’s own browser. It resembles to some extent the medieval alchemy process generally referred to as a “crucible.” Prototypes were tested in the Diplomacy room within the Apple complex, subjected to exceptionally high standards. The tension and stress were even more severe whenever Jobs was present.
Involvement in testing prototypes “was part of Steve mission for Apple, the most significant strand of Apple’s product DNA: to meld technology and the liberal arts, to take the latest software and hardware advances, mix them with elements of design and culture, and produce features and products that people found useful and meaningful to their everyday lives.”
It is helpful to remember that in 1859, Charles Darwin shared his thoughts about natural selection: “It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.” Individuals as well as organizations that are unwilling and/or unable to adapt cannot survive, much less strive.
Based on what I have learned about the Apple culture from dozens of authoritative sources, there have been elements of natural selection — especially throughout the years when Jobs was CEO — when the prevailing standard for both people and products was “insanely great.” There were other forces, however, that also came into play: Joseph Schumpeter’s concept of “creative destruction,” for example, and the process on which Ken Kocienda focuses, “creative selection.”
I highly recommend Ken Kocienda’s book to senior-level executives in all organizations — whatever their size and nature may be — because the material he provides will help them to determine their own essential elements, formulate their own modules, initiate creative selection, and build a workplace culture around them. Almost everything they need in order to achieve those and other strategic objectives is provided in this invaluable book.