Steve Jobs on Ideas vs. Products

September 19, 2022 • #

A lot of Steve Jobs content is hagiography at this point, but this clip is fantastic:

There’s an enormous delta between idea and execution. Someone can take a great idea and squander it. Or conversely, someone could take a middling and obvious idea and execute so well they build a billion dollar business. From the first part of the clip:

One of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. And that disease, I’ve seen other people get it, too, it’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90 percent of the work, and that if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea” then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s a just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in-between a great idea and a great product, and as you evolve that great idea it changes and grows it never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there’s tremendous trade-offs that you have to make. There are there are just certain things you can’t make electrons do, there are certain things you can’t make plastic do or glass do or factories do or robots do. And as you get into all these things, designing a product is keeping 5,000 things in your brain, these concepts, and fitting them all together and kind of continuing to push to fit them together in new and different ways to get what you want and every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently. It’s that process that is the magic.

The idea of “making to know”, or of starting the work in order to figure out the specific contours of the work, these are fascinating concepts to me. So many of the great innovations of our time are the function of the college dropout, or the less-educated craftsperson, experimenting through years of trial and error to make something happen. Often the only way to know the true bottlenecks, challenges, and chokepoints of bringing an idea to consumers (buyers, audiences, customers) is to get started. Make the map of the territory along the way.