Steve Jobs & Keeping Silos from Abusing Their Power

I was pondering Steve Jobs’ legacy again recently. And I continue to be fascinated that he showed that integrating less advanced, but more solid, technologies can deliver far more consumer power than exotic technological advancement. In a sense, with much of Apple’s work integration IS the innovation. And in doing so, Jobs showed that being jack of all trades is often the only way to deliver something exceptional.

But Succeeding with Integration isn’t Easy. In the Isaacson biography of Jobs, I was fascinated by how hard he had to work to keep the drive for perfection within silo’s (where, often the product must be perfect according to each silo’s criteria) from destroying good product. And I’d guess some of his well-documented rudeness comes from the frustration of this challenge.

This is critical for development. In today’s world, expertise in the silo tends to win the battle…always. As I talk with design leads at consumer goods companies they all express frustration with the degree to which products end up over-engineered or manufactured. And how this silo dominance can quickly kill a good idea.

I don’t blame the engineers in the silo. It is very difficult for an engineer to know how to make the compromise trade-offs – especially when everything about engineering training tends toward “perfect engineering” not “effective end result”.

Also, engineers rarely have the opportunity to gain the field experience that would lead to them instinctively knowing these trade-offs. So it must fall to a strong leader to set that vision. Jobs was such a leader.

Fighting the Excesses of Silos is also a Problem in Advertising and the Creative Fields. Crafting our national TV advertising, for example, we have to manage/guide/control each of the discipline’s tendency to pursue perfection according to that discipline’s criteria. Left unchecked, you end up with ineffective film/video that might win awards for perfection but will be dull, meaningless, and completely ignorable communication for the consumer (there are vast expanses of these meaningless ads on TV every day).

Brilliant work comes when strong individual limits the search for perfection in each field by focusing on the most powerful integrated end result.

From what I read, I think Jobs created this balance among the competing silo’s of tech. And that’s also why some in tech find him so hard to love. He didn’t tend to put things in the product (e.g. cameras) that people would say “that’s the most advanced camera technology”. Rather, he would choose to put in the camera that practically delivered the most satisfaction to the largest number of end users.

In fact, here’s what Steve Wozniak observed about Jobs’ approach in an interview that appeared a few days after I first published this blog post: “In other words, put in the balance of the best features, and you don’t have to be the top camera in the world, the highest speed processor in the world, the longest battery life. You just have to be very good in every category” (Link here.)

Unfortunately, with Jobs’ passing I fear that the silo’s at Apple are winning the day. Certainly I don’t have inside information to know this for certain. But when I look at the content of their new releases and new products combined with the stories they tell to describe them, I fear that Apple has not been able to replace Jobs’ integration brilliance.

Silo’s aren’t merely a challenge in product development. Silos are a fact of life in nearly every big endeavor. In manufacturing, in marketing, in advertising, in retail stores, and in all of the logistics, quality and support areas that make things happen.

In all these areas, our challenge is to control silo dictatorship – and fight for the tremendous advantages that come only when each silo integrates. And what I’ve found most exciting is that everyone wins when this happens – including the silo’s. Because nothing is more exciting than success.

Copyright 2015 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Doug Garnett is an expert introducing innovative consumer products and services to market while driving higher return on innovation investment. His career has been spent in innovation and he is the president of Protonik, LLC - an innovation consultancy focused on marketing and innovation. Prior to founding Protonik, he was founder and CEO of ad agency Atomic Direct.

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