Apple products have a magical quality. As Steve Jobs said “they just work”. This simple assertion, however, sits on top of a much more complex phenomenon. Want to know more?
Ok. Here we go. Let me ask you this, “What does it mean when something “works”?” At its core, I think it means that an external thing (what we focus on) meets — or better yet exceeds — our internal expectations. Notice the duality. There are internal and external aspects to the formula. If either goes askew, we have a breakdown.The thing doesn’t work and we get the opposite of magic. Like a car that won’t start. Or a flat tire.
On the flip side, if we choose to live with low expectations, everything “works” — sort of and we get stagnation. This is a common attitude when people are overwhelmed by life’s difficulties. Whatever you want to call this, it is not “magic”. And even if we are not overwhelmed, but our expectations are fixed over time, we start thinking more and more about “efficiency” (incremental improvements). This seems to work, but it is magical only in terms of reverence for the past (when the magic happened). I think Jobs meant something different than that.
So what did Jobs mean? We get magic when our expectations are exceeded. When we are lifted out of what had seemed like a constrained environment. Like suddenly being able to fly out the window. What happened to gravity? Who cares!
What a wonderful image from the Peter Pan story via “wild world“! Steve Jobs made the audacious claim that he could produce similar magic by delivering incredible experiences from electronic devices.
This is indeed audacious. Setting aside the “how could he do that?!” question, think about the attitude. Jobs’ success in life was about giving magic to you. About helping YOU work. Technology for him was just a tool. Right. So, here is my big, big, big question. Can we do that too? Can we live great lives by making other people “work”? By delivering magic to them the way that Apple does to us?
Perhaps the hardest part (as usual) is to figure out where to get started. Jobs thought that you start with your internal processes. And he took an incredibly simple step to get his internal processes working along the right path. He made a commitment to discovering “wonder”. Notice I did not say that he already had found the “wonder”. Quite the opposite. He opened his mind to the possibility that he didn’t yet know how wonderful things could get. This created internal space for great new ideas.
You might ask, “why is that such a big deal?” Here is why. If you open your mind up this way your mind starts working differently. The mind starts seeing the world differently and producing different sorts of creative input for how to live. It becomes possible to commit to a search rather than routines. This sets the “this works” meter to the appropriate standard — things work when they produce wonder. Pretty cool, I think.
Now we can move to a more mechanical step. Looking at external stuff, we can ask ourselves”what makes thing work better?” We call the result “great design”. Bits reporter Nick Belton writes that this implies a shift from thinking about “technology” (for example, what is inside a computer) to emotional experiences from using technology. According to Belton, we are starting to think this way about the design of digital tools. In other words, the tech world is following in Jobs’ footsteps.
This is exciting. Not so much because it means we will get better and better gadgets — though we will. It is fun because it opens up the possibility of understanding better how we can design our lives in communities. We can make relatinoships “work” in magical ways if we believe in and use the process.
Do you believe in that?