Book Summaries

Book Summary: Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda.

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Get busy. Decide what it means to do great work, and then try to make it happen. Success is never assured, and the effort might not be easy, but if you love what you’re doing, it won’t seem so hard.

Ken Kocienda worked as a software engineer and designer at Apple for over fifteen years. In Creative Selection: Inside Apple’s Design Process During the Golden Age of Steve Jobs, Kocienda takes the reader on a journey of how some Apple Inc. products such as the Safari Web browser, iPhone and iPad were built, the design thinking, the key players, Apple’s innovative DNA, working with Steve Jobs, dealing with corporate politics and what it feels like working in an innovation baised company like Apple.

Apple is a top-down leadership, bottom up Contribution organization.

Some projects Ken was involved in building included building the Safari Web Browser, iPhone Keyboard, WebKit, Appkit among others.

A small group of people built a work culture based on applying the seven essential elements through an ongoing process of creative selection.

Favourite Takeaways: Creative Selection by Ken Kocienda.

Ken identified seven elements that epitomizes Apple’s software success

  • Inspiration: Thinking big ideas and imagining what might be possible
  • Collaboration: Working together well with other  people and seeking to combine your complementary strengths
  • Craft: Applying skill to achieve high-quality results and always striving to do better
  • Diligence: Doing the necessary grunt work and never resorting to shortcuts or half measures
  • Decisiveness: Making tough choices and refusing to delay or procrastinate
  • Taste: Developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole
  • Empathy: Trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs

Ken Kocienda on joining Apple

“When I joined Apple in 2001, desktop and laptop computers were still the company’s main products, and while the colorful iMac had been a notable success in reestablishing Apple as a design leader in high technology—Steve Jobs had been back for four years following his eleven-year exile—the company still sat below 5 percent share in a market dominated by Microsoft Windows. Apple certainly had its core enthusiasts at that time, and they were passionate about its products, but to everyone else, the Mac was a computer they might have used in college but forgot about when they became adults and got jobs.”

Steve Job’s Reality Distortion Field

 Over the years, many people have commented on Steve’s special ability to tell you something, whatever it was, no matter how implausible, and make you believe it. This reality distortion field, the RDF, has become legendary.

Making great software with Demos

The relation of Diplomacy decision to shipping software also shows how important demos were to us at Apple. Demos served as the primary means to turn ideas into software. The setup of these demo review meetings reveals how we went about making our software great.

The need to keep churning out demos that could eventually be shown to Steve meant our day-to-day software development work became a pyramid of demos, reviews, and decisions building up to the top and to Steve’s final judgment.

Steve’s obsession with Simplicity

Even though he was a high-tech CEO, Steve could put himself in the shoes of customers, people who cared nothing for the ins and outs of the software industry. He never wanted Apple software to overload people, especially when they might already be stretched by the bustle of their everyday lives.

Ideas are nothing without the hard work to make them real

Demo Reviews

Demo reviews were also part of Steve’s effort to model the product development behaviors he wanted us to use when he couldn’t be present. As in Diplomacy, the whole software organization kept meetings and teams small to maintain efficiency and to reinforce the principle of doing the most with the least. Steve’s constant demand to see a succession of demos spawned numerous other demos, each with their own presenters and deciders. All these demos helped the entire software team stay focused on making great products.

None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. – Thomas Edison

Code Optimization

Optimization is the process where programmers try to make code execute faster. Programs are, after all, just long lists of instructions for computers, and although computers are very fast, they are not infinitely so. To make speedy software, program instructions must be as efficient as possible, but it’s not always straightforward to know which instructions will be fast to execute.

Communicating your Vision

In any complex effort, communicating a well-articulated vision for what you’re trying to do is the starting point for figuring out how to do it. And though coming up with such a vision is difficult, it’s unquestionably more difficult to complete the entire circuit, to come up with an idea, a plan to realize the idea, and then actualize the plan at a high standard, all without getting bogged down, changing direction entirely, or failing outright.

Perhaps the most unnerving and fear-inducing source of anxiety is that your ideas, words, and resulting vision might not be any good to start with and wouldn’t yield success even with a faithful follow-through.

Lessons from Vince Lombardi

When I look back from our technology work to the coaching of Vince Lombardi, I see in his approach to football the same pursuit of clarity and perfection that we sought in our effort to make products at Apple. With his single-minded emphasis on the Power Sweep, and with the success the Packers enjoyed as a result, Vince Lombardi was the Steve Jobs of football coaches.

Lombardi connected his words and his team’s actions in football by focusing on one simple play, while at Apple, with our single-minded emphasis on never making the browser slower, we connected our words and actions in software by focusing on one simple rule.

Customer-focused Company

Apple is customer-focused. The company always sought to give people convincing reasons to buy its products. If the marketing department wasn’t interested in telling people about sync, then the feature was something Apple felt it needed to do, not necessarily something that it wanted to do or was excited about doing.

Demo-based Iteration

At Apple, we built our work on this basic fact. Demos made us react, and the reactions were essential. Direct feedback on one demo provided the impetus to transform it into the next. Demos were the catalyst for creative decisions, and we found that the sooner we started making creative decisions—whether we should have big keys with easy-to-tap targets or small keys coupled with software assistance—the more time there was to refine and improve those decisions, to backtrack if needed, to forge ahead if possible.

Concrete and specific demos were the handholds and footholds that helped boost us up from the bottom of the conceptual valley so we could scale the heights of worthwhile work. Making a succession of demos was the core of the process of taking an idea from the intangible to the tangible.

Making demos is hard. It involves overcoming apprehensions about committing time and effort to an idea that you aren’t sure is right.

Making demos is hard. It involves overcoming apprehensions about committing time and effort to an idea that you aren’t sure is right. At Apple, we then had to expose that idea and demo to the scrutiny of sharp-eyed colleagues who were never afraid to level pointed criticism. The psychological hurdle only grows taller with the knowledge that most demos—almost all of them—fail in the absolute, dead-end sense of the word.

Show don’t tell

Literally, we had to demonstrate our idea. We couldn’t get away with telling. We were required to show. We combined some inspiration, craft, taste, and decisiveness, and we shared our results. We had to work like this, because the team didn’t accept anything unless it was concrete and specific, a demo showing what we meant. Then we tried out each other’s demos, said what we liked and what we didn’t, and offered suggestions for improvements, which led to more demos and more feedback.

Taste is developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole.

Design is how it works.

In a 2003 New York Times interview discussing the iPod, Steve drove his point home:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it [a product] looks like. People think it’s this veneer—that the designers are handed this box and told, “Make it look good!” That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Shallow beauty in products doesn’t serve people. Product design should strive for a depth, for a beauty rooted in what a product does, not merely in how it looks and feels. Form should follow function, even though this might seem like a strange notion for pixels on a screen, but it’s not if you believe the appearance of a product should tell you what it is and how to use it. Objects should explain themselves.

Convergence

“Convergence was the term we used to describe the final phase of making an Apple product, after the features had been locked down and the programming and design teams spent the last three or four months fixing bugs and polishing details. Entering a convergence period was the moment we had a clear picture in our minds about how we wanted our finished software to work. It also meant that the hardest part was over—we had been largely successful in navigating the course from idea to product.”

As a whole, a succession of demos, feedback, and follow-up demos created a progression of variation and selection that shaped our products over time.

No A/B Test

“At Apple, we never would have dreamed of doing that, and we never staged any A/B tests for any of the software on the iPhone. When it came to choosing a color, we picked one. We used our good taste—and our knowledge of how to make software accessible to people with visual difficulties related to color perception—and we moved on.”

On Creative Selection

A small group of passionate, talented, imaginative, ingenious, ever-curious people built a work culture based on applying their inspiration and collaboration with diligence, craft, decisiveness, taste, and empathy and, through a lengthy progression of demo-feedback sessions, repeatedly tuned and optimized heuristics and algorithms, persisted through doubts and setbacks, selected the most promising bits of progress at every step, all with the goal of creating the best products possible.

Get busy. Decide what it means to do great work, and then try to make it happen. Success is never assured, and the effort might not be easy, but if you love what you’re doing, it won’t seem so hard.

The seven essential elements of the Apple development approach

  1. Inspiration, which means thinking big ideas and imagining about what might be possible, as when Imran saw how smooth finger tracking would be the key to people connecting to iPhone experiences through touch
  2. Collaboration, which means working together well with other people and seeking to combine your complementary strengths, as when Darin and Trey helped me make the insertion point move correctly in WebKit word processing
  3. Craft, which means applying skill to achieve high-quality results and always striving to do better, as when the Safari team made the web browser faster and faster by running the Page Load Test, trying to understand what this test program told us about our software, and using these findings to optimizing our code
  4. Diligence, which means doing the necessary grunt work and never resorting to shortcuts or half measures, as when we persisted through the tedium of fixing cross-references to get Safari to build in the lead-up to the Black Slab Encounter
  5. Decisiveness, which means making tough choices and refusing to delay or procrastinate, as when Steve Jobs made me pick the better keyboard layout for the iPad on the spot while he waited rather than just offering the two different designs Bas and I developed
  6. Taste, which means developing a refined sense of judgment and finding the balance that produces a pleasing and integrated whole, as when we made the choice to offer a QWERTY keyboard layout for the iPhone
  7. Empathy, which means trying to see the world from other people’s perspectives and creating work that fits into their lives and adapts to their needs, as when Scott Herz made a game to find the best size for touch targets so it was comfortable to tap the iPhone display and accommodated people with varying levels of dexterity

All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile -info@lanredahunsi.com

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