I have just completed reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. In the last few pages he recalls a conversation that he had with Steve a few weeks before his death. Like me Steve Jobs has spent time to study Buddhism and he reflected on it this way:
‘It is strange to think that you accumulate all this experience, and maybe a little wisdom, and it just goes away. So I want to believe that something survives. … But on the other hand perhaps it is like an on-off switch. Click! And you are gone.’ He smiled lightly: ‘Maybe that’s why I never liked to put on-off switches on Apple devices.’
Steve also remarked on his views about customers and businesses which I whole-heartedly share. I have said and written many of the same things over the years. My way of doing things is not always appreciated thus I do find comfort that a man much greater than me had similar ideas and/or flaws.
‘My passion has been to build an enduring company where people are motivated to make great products. … Once the only goal is to make money, it ends up meaning everything, the people you hire, who gets promoted and what you discuss in meetings. … The salespeople end up running the company. It happened with Akers at IBM, Ballmer at Microsoft, and Sculley at Apple, but we fortunately rebounded.’
‘Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that is not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they are going to want before they do. … people don’t know what they want until you show them. That’s why I never rely on market research.’
‘I hate it when people call themselves “entrepreneurs” when what they really trying to do is to launch a startup to cash in. They are not willing to do the work it takes to build a real company.’
‘It is my job to be honest. … I was hard on people, probably harder than I needed to be, but someone’s got to do it. .. You always have to keep pushing to innovate. … Otherwise as Bob Dylan said, “if you are not busy being born, you are busy dying.’
While much of that describes my view of business and life pretty well, these are not just thinking points for CEO’s but also for CIO’s. Steve too shares my mistrust into market research that through dollar-spend on analysts always favors mega-vendors. If CIOs have no other means of deciding what they need then they will neither be leading nor innovating. It was thus refreshing to have Gartner analyst Dennis Gaughan recently discuss the approach of large vendors, who are no more than milking the cash cow in the way Steve Jobs described: Microsoft mainly wants to protect its highly lucrative Windows and Office monopolies. Oracle’s sales force is extremely aggressive about pushing a suite of products, but integration is usually left entirely up to the customer. The company makes more than 90% of its profits through maintenance fees. Customers report that Oracle is “the most difficult vendor to deal with.” IBM bills itself as a thought leader, but its real business is selling consulting services. At IBM, account managers try to take control of a company’s IT strategy so they can keep pushing new products. Clearly, being a mega vendor and having the financial resources to dominate marketing and sales allows to also dominate businesses IT strategy.
I have attended Gartner’s ITxpo in Barcelona which was a great event, despite the warning about market research that Steve Jobs made. Gartner Distinguished Analyst VP Tina Nunno summed up the CIO role in a post-modern business in her part of the ITxpo keynote speech:
‘Re-Imagine IT’s influence on business success by focusing on competitive advantage. Stop taking requirements from business but start to make recommendations. Be a lesser service provider and be a greater leader. I want you to go home and destroy something. Find a legacy application for creative destruction to make room for innovation. Destroy binary thinking! Stop to think in business and IT, control and chaos, build or buy, perfectionism versus calculated risks. Be adaptable! The future of IT is to build a customer centric organisation that focuses on context, collaboration and information.’
Honestly, I was stunned. This sounds like my Adaptive Case Management presentation! I have not heard something so sensible in a long time and once again, ‘Despicable ME’ has said the same things each year in my keynote speeches.