It's not often that Apple head designer Jonathan Ive gives an interview. Not only does Apple have its secretive culture, but he is reportedly a private person. However, give an interview Ive did to the London Evening Standard recently, and it's full of lessons for entrepreneurs who want to take markets by storm with great products.
Many companies focus on differentiating themselves from the competition. And, certainly, that is important if you want to offer strong reasons why customers should do business with you and not a competitor. But any difference has to be organic and not contrived. "A product has to be genuinely better," Ive says. "Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule, or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different—they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product." If you're not trying to do something better, then you're not focused on the customer and you'll miss the possibility of making your business great.
Although Ive has been key to Apple's success since the early 1990s, he's a cultural outsider in important ways—raised and schooled in London and getting his first experience in design companies there. So he still has an outsider's eye for what makes Silicon Valley different. When asked what he liked about the area, he said this: "There’s not a sense of looking to generate money, it's about having an idea and doing it. I think that characterizes this area and its focus." If you focus first on making money (an important part of commercial success), then you're less likely to pay attention to the ideas, which are the basis of products and services. You lose direction and then are back at contrived differentiation.
According to Ive, the least challenging approach to innovation is when there's a problem you're aware of. The need is obvious. However, it may be obvious to others, as well. What is more rewarding, and more difficult, is when you see an opportunity. "It’s not a problem you’re aware of," says Ive, "nobody has articulated a need. But you start asking questions, what if we do this, combine it with that, would that be useful? This creates opportunities that could replace entire categories of device, rather than tactically responding to an individual problem." Solve the nagging problems, but look to the possibilities to set the world on fire.
Ive says that even solving a tiny detail of product development and design can take "months and months and months." But a good product has integrity, in the sense that everything works together. You can't ignore the small details without which you can't address the big issues.
Of course, there's no guarantee that you could attain the success of any of Apple's products. But principles are important. Follow the ones that have been proven to work and you're closer to attaining your own goals.