Saturday, September 17, 2011

UPDATE: Steve Job's Secret? He was a "Near-Futurist".

(UPDATE NOTE: I wrote this blog post about Steve Jobs on September 17. Given the loss of his brilliance from the world of innovation I thought I'd push this out again. Steve has been an inspiration to me since I saw the 1984 commercial for the Mac when I was a sophomore in college. If energized me to refocus on getting my engineering degree and becoming a visionary innovator like Steve. 27 years later I'm still focused on being an innovator even at age 47. Steve helped 40+ types like me realize that true innovation mindset is something not limited to the young. Innovation is an attitude you can keep your entire life.)

Everyone lately is trying to figure out why Steve Job's has in the past 10 years gone from failure to unimaginable success and now reached "icon" status. I know why.

It's because he figured out the commercial power of becoming what I call a "Near-Futurist".

Steve Jobs once said...  “It isn’t the consumer's job to know what they want.”

People hearing that who think he was being arrogant don't understand what he was saying.  In that quote he *wasn't" saying consumers don't know what they want/need *now*.  For good or bad we do.

What he was really saying is, "consumer's don't know what they will want 2 years, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years from now but I (SJ) do.".

Every human mind, to one degree of accuracy or another, is a "time machine". We can, depending on the person, vividly remember the past or vividly envision the future, or sometimes both.  Davinci, H.G Wells, Jules Verne and other past futurists could see vividly how technology would affect the future. They often could envision a future decades to 100s of years in the future.

But seeing something that will be popular even only 5 years in the future doesn't result in commercial success. 5 years is just a bit too long.

Steve Jobs is one of those people whose mind always is thinking about and imagining being in the future. He naturally likes to think of futures anywhere from 5 to 25 years from "the now".

But Jobs became more commercially successful in his product visions and projects when he figured out he needed to focus his future vision on what people will want 2 to 3 years in the future instead of 5,10 or 25 years hence.

In 1984 he managed to get a Macintosh product into the market that was 10 years ahead of what most people were ready for and he had what appeared to be a big success.

But in reality that "success" set him back 15 years. It set him back because he thought that success meant he could drag people 10 years into the future every time he launched a product. It took him 15 years from that 1984 commercial (1999/2000) to realize he had to "Think different.". That new thinking and approach was he decided to work on envisioning products that would get delivered within 6 months of those products being wanted avariciously by the mainstream consumer. Deliver the right product 6 months before people want it and it's a lot easier to drag people 6 months into the future and look like you are a super-genius who sees things no one else sees.

So working backward from "launch 6 months before the market is ready" meant he needed to focus his future vision 2 to 3 years out so that he and his team would have the time to deliver "on time"; 6 months before people were ready to "want".

With this approach Apple's competition then is already 3 years behind when he introduces his product and by the time they start reacting they are already 4 of 5 years behind and that is simply impossible to overcome unless Apple stumbles in a big way.

Jobs loves Wayne Gretzky's "I skate to where the puck is going to be." quote.

Steve Jobs developed himself into a specific kind of futurist that optimizes his ability for commercial success by skating to "where the puck is going to be" 3 years from today.

He's successful because he's a..."Near-Futurist".