I’ve written about Paul Graham as an essayist before, but, thanks to [Darshan Shankar], it turns out he talks the way he writes: always trying to answer the question as simply as possible, always trying to think about the larger landscape and not get caught up in assumptions.
As Shankar points out, Steve Jobs was good at this, too: always keeping the basics in sight, even when doing some advanced design work. (A video of Jobs from 1995 is embedded in Shankar’s post.)
Back in 2007 a member of the press asked Steve Jobs about Apple’s participation, or lack thereof, in the Intel Inside program. Both Jobs and Phil Schiller make it clear that they want the customer’s experience to be focused on what the product delivers, not who the makers of its components are.
That’s important for a couple of reasons. First of all, it keeps producers focused on their audience’s experience and not on satisfying supplier or partner compliance requirements in order to save money. So, deliver a great product to your real audience and make money in the old-fashioned way. Second, it makes your product yours and not someone else’s. If you change suppliers, you don’t need to change anything else. Third, and most importantly, it forces you as a producer to take responsibility for your product. Its strengths, and its weaknesses, are yours and yours alone to account for.
[Listen for yourself.](http://media.macworld.com/media/legacy/2007/08/downloads/stickerquestion.mp3)
Isaacson’s concise assessment of Jobs in the HBR is worth reading in its entirety, but I have copied a few of my favorite quotes here:
*On being who you are fully and all the time*:
> The essence of Jobs, I think, is that his personality was integral to his way of doing business. He acted as if the normal rules didn’t apply to him, and the passion, intensity, and extreme emotionalism he brought to everyday life were things he also poured into the products he made. His petulance and impatience were part and parcel of his perfectionism.
*On being who you are with other people*:
> I asked him again about his tendency to be rough on people. “Look at the results,” he replied. “These are all smart people I work with, and any of them could get a top job at another place if they were truly feeling brutalized. But they don’t.” Then he paused for a few moments and said, almost wistfully, “And we got some amazing things done.”
> When Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, it was producing a random array of computers and peripherals, including a dozen different versions of the Macintosh. After a few weeks of product review sessions, he’d finally had enough. “Stop!” he shouted. “This is crazy.” He grabbed a Magic Marker, padded in his bare feet to a whiteboard, and drew a two-by-two grid. “Here’s what we need,” he declared. Atop the two columns, he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro.” He labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he told his team members, was to focus on four great products, one for each quadrant. All other products should be canceled. There was a stunned silence. But by getting Apple to focus on making just four computers, he saved the company. “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” he told me. “That’s true for companies, and it’s true for products.”
Here’s a phrase I like a lot: “Made in the USA.” I’m trying out their stuff now. I’ll report back in a few weeks what I think, but it’s not often that clicking the *Buy* button immediately gives you a sense of doing the right thing.
A young Brooklyn couple loved the Pilot Hi-Tec pens so much that they decided to create a stainless steel housing for them. They decided to try to get [funding for their effort from Kickstarter][ks]. They had a modest goal of $2500. They ended up with $281,989. And now I wish I was one of their investors, who at $50 got a pen, because now they are [selling them for $99][shop]. Too rich for my blood, but oh so lovely in stainless steel.
I must remember to browse Kickstarter more often. It’s so lovely to see people designing and making things.
Here’s a list of the stuff that’s filling up the tabs of my browser. I wanted to write about a number of them, but I just don’t have the time.
* [Who killed lard?][wkl]: NPR’s Planet Money has a podcast and they recently asked: who killed lard? Was it Upton Sinclair? Or should we blame William Procter and James Gamble? It was their company which created a new alternative to lard — the “pure and wholesome” Crisco?
* [Sell Your By-Products][svb]: is the advice of the good folks at 37Signals, who have a pretty good track record given that they developed Ruby on Rails and have written two books, which in turn spawned a consulting business. They are that good. (Definitely on my “would work for them” list.)
* [AppStorm’s Ultimate Dropbox Toolkit and Guide][db] is a roundup of Dropbox apps or apps that get better with Dropbox.
It’s a great idea: take the beloved Mason jar and turn it into a coffee cup — one sees an entire secondary market in convenient sleeves cropping up — but [Cuppow] is only available through its own website. It’s price of $7.99 is not bad: this is obviously meant to target a particular market which is willing to pay for its green-ness and/or cleverness. (Hey, I’m in that market, so I can write that.) But the shipping of $5 means your total cost is $13. Too much. Get back to me, Cuppow, when you have gotten your costs for one or the other down.
Essentially Hockfield boils it down to two concomitant issues: a lack of political will at both the national and state level to fund research with no immediate application in sight and the lack of commitment by entrepreneurs to not only inventing here in America but making things here in America:
Don’t just create ideas, also make products here. Buying back technologies that we invented changed our surplus into deficit. We need to have a substantial fraction of technologies that are made in America.
A recent article in Entrepreneur magazine reminded me of my own days as a business consultant, but what really struck me was how much it sounded exactly like the kind of activities that academic faculty already engage in or are being asked to engage in:
Are you an expert? If so, you might be able to profit from your expertise in a side business apart from your everyday work. How? By selling products teaching other people about your area of expertise.
You may have a hobby and find yourself answering other people’s questions about what you do in online chat rooms. Or you may have developed great ways to perform services in a particular business. You may be able to package what you know into an information product.
It might take the form of traditional books, audio programs, videos or DVDs, magazines, newsletters, ebooks, membership websites, teleseminars and webinars, telecoaching programs, seminars and conferences, and combinations of these. Businesspeople and consumers alike need to learn about solutions to problems they have in a convenient and useful format.
Consulting as “side work” is quite common among business and engineering faculty, but less common in the humanities and in those sciences that are further away from the “applied” arena. Curiously, much of the discourse around web entrepreneurship — I am thinking here specifically of bloggers and others who host similar independent content creation sites — advocate a very similar set of activities: get exposure in as many channels and arenas as possible.
Let’s hope it works. I am certainly going to try for it.