Sun 28 Jan 2007
The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection
Category : Commentary/relentless.txt
I'm reading "Lexus: The Relentless Pursuit" by Chester Dawson. There's this passage :
What's this got to do with software development?
From the technical point of view, the work that goes into building great software is a lot like the work that went into the making of the Lexus. There's the same meticulous attention to detail, fueled by the same drive to achieve perfection.
But from the business point of view, unfortunately, there the similarity ends.
Software is hidden. It works behind the scenes. The same CEO who buys a Lexus, in an ostentatious display of wealth, status and earning ability, is often the same CEO who will squeeze the living daylights out a software vendor, in the mistaken belief that it demonstrates his superior ability to save his company money.
So we, the software guys, get caught at the wrong end of the game. Look how the incentives are skewed. The more people a manager has working for him, the better he looks, the bigger the perceived responsibility, and the bigger the corner office. He can make all the right noises about investing in productivity, but great software or systems that actually deliver on that productivity are working at cross purposes with his real un-stated needs. Like, why have an accounting department with just two people when you can look like a powerhouse of a business with a VP for Finance and a staff of fifteen?
I believe Microsoft succeeds better than Apple in business because it understands better the real concerns of the CEOs, CFOs and CIOs. Or least better than Steve Jobs, who see orifices where others see opportunities.
Look how Apple has struggled selling to enterprises. The Mac's superior design and craftsmanship cut no ice with these members of the modern-day politburo.
But this is the point I am coming to. An aspiring (and struggling) entrepreneur ought to study Apple religiously, for the responses it has made to fight its way out of its predicament, because we share more traits with Apple, with the need to find creative solutions to interesting conundrums such as these, than we do with Bill Gates. Really.
So the day Apple launched the iPod, I remember turning to my wife and saying, I believe Apple has found the key.
They've found the product to pour all their heart and soul, ingenuity and endeavour into, that finally shares those strange economic characteristics of the Beamers and the Benzes and the Lexus. Something that all the cool kids would want to use. And be seen to be using. And the more they have to pay for it, and have people know they paid for it, the better it will be.
And so when Steve Ballmer says of the iPhone, "500 dollars? Hah hah, for the most expensive phone in the world, by far, Hah hah", I thought, that's precisely why people will buy it. And they'll place it on those splendid burnished tables in executive suites everywhere, in that understated, languid way that only the rich can affect, and there's nothing the IT managers, CEOs and CFOs can do about it.
I believe it's no accident that Steve Jobs called all the people who worked on the iPhone to stand up in MacWorld. It may be to call attention to the idea that this phone has been built, painstakingly and meticulously, with love and a genuine craftsman's pride. So this will be just the right phone for all those people with "understated sophistication and a highly refined taste".
This could be Apple's revenge for all those years of getting shafted by an un-imaginative competition, united only by a desperate need to maintain the mediocre status quo. All it has to do now is to deliver on the promise and make good on the execution. Then, like in an Ayn Rand world where Atlas shrugged and the Fountainhead flows, justice would have been served.