Obama's Visit With Steve Jobs: Here's What I Hope He Learned
Oct 25, 2010 5:00 AM PT
Unfortunately, I think I'm part of a group that is becoming extinct. Regardless of which party holds office in the U.S., my true hope is for its success, because I have this twisted view that if we have successful president, we'll have a better quality of life. Unfortunately, both of the U.S. parties seem to be competing as to which can screw up the country more effectively and, at the moment, the Democrats are winning, largely because they control government.
Last week, the current sitting trainwreck stopped off to visit the most successful technology CEO we currently have -- something I suggested some time ago -- and I hope he learned a couple of things. I'll revisit that topic this week as many of us decide whether to vote out the current set of bums only to replace them with a new set.
I'll close with my product of the week: a robotic vacuum cleaner that may be smarter than many of the folks running for or holding office.
Early last year, I was becoming concerned that the new U.S. president was off on the wrong track and that he had forgotten the successful process that had resulted in his election. He had presented a dream to the American people; I was increasingly afraid not only that he had forgotten what that dream was, but also that he had forgotten the importance of painting a future we all could work toward.
I drew a comparison to Steve Wozniak' s appearance on "Dancing With the Stars." Steve clearly believed he could dance, and had unfortunately surrounded himself with Steve Jobs' reality distortion field.
What many marveled at was that Wozniak performed even though he was in massive pain at the time. We didn't marvel for long, but you had to admire his heart, and the fact that he stepped into a fight he couldn't win and went down swinging. However, in a president you don't want someone who goes down swinging -- you want someone who gets the job done, and there was too much of Steve Wozniak showing up in President Obama.
Previously, I'd written a column on how our new president could learn from a number of technology companies how to keep his job. From EMC, he could learn about ensuring the loyalty of the voters -- and maybe avoid first losing his majority in Congress and then losing his job. I pointed out that he could learn tenacity from Microsoft, which has a tendency to keep going at a problem until it's successful. And I closed with what he could learn from Apple about setting and driving his people toward aggressive goals, while more effectively managing perceptions.
Even earlier, I had pointed out that Obama's focus on speed over quality of result was consistent with many textbook failures. Though it was great that President Obama was admitting his mistakes, I felt it would have been far more beneficial for the nation if he had avoided them in the first place -- something he also could have learned by talking to leading technology CEOs like Steve Jobs.
He certainly has shown a lot of tenacity, but success has been elusive as his approval rating hits new lows .
Steve Jobs' Stunning Example
What really sets Steve Jobs apart from most CEOs (partially covered in the two books Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs, and Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs) -- at least on the success side -- is his focus on doing a few things right rather than throwing a lot of crap at the wall and praying enough will stick to let him keep his job.
You can still almost count Apple's entire consumer hardware product line -- iPods, iPhones, tablet, PCs and TV box -- without resorting to using your toes. With most other vendors, you'd be at a higher level of complexity before you even finished one of their many competing lines. Apple brings products to market with focus, and you have a period of time to get comfortable with them before it switches focus onto something new. Each product has an impressive level of quality.
Apple is the only vendor that consistently gets lines of people wanting to buy its products, largely because Steve Jobs creates a near-mystical image around the offering -- and the product is close enough to being magical that the image holds.
For Steve Jobs, getting something done isn't as important as getting it done right. When given a choice of having something done right or timely, he often seems to tell his folks "screw the choice -- I want both or its your ass," and they deliver. At Apple, folks are either part of the same team or they work for someone else. Steve also seems to keep his superstars to a manageable number, because he seems to have learned that if you have a lot of them, all they do is bicker and you don't get anything done.
Steve's three consistent lessons: 1) perceptions are more important than reality; 2) when given a choice between being timely or good, you pick both; and 3) there is one leader -- and folks either follow or leave.
Wrapping Up: What I Hope Obama Learned From Steve Jobs
The current U.S. administration has effectively screwed up universal healthcare and the stimulus package by focusing too much on speed and too little on quality. It failed horribly to manage perceptions, and it really isn't clear who the president of the country is. Like many, I wonder if it isn't actually Nancy Pelosi -- who is evidently upset that Christine O'Donnell stole her slogan. Obama has an advisor team of superstars who only seem to get in each other's way, and progress has been almost nonexistent -- so much so, there was a "Saturday Night Live" skit about it . At least he got the dog he promised.
Fox news is doing a better job at controlling perceptions than the president, and if he is to be successful -- as even Jon Stewart points out -- he'll need to fix that. Jobs would be the leading expert I'd recommend to advise him on that.
Swapping leadership isn't like having your baseball team beat the other guys' team. It breaks continuity, and there is no assurance that the next team in will do any more than try to simply undo what the current team has done.
Running furiously in place isn't progress -- it is exercise, and we desperately need progress. My hope, my dream, is that President Obama learns what it means to be a president before he loses all authority and is replaced by another trainee. This is largely because I doubt we can afford the cost of yet another presidential learning-by-doing education program this decade.
Product of the Week: A Vacuum That Is Smarter Than a Politician
I'm a big Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner fan, or at least I was. The Roomba reminds me a bit of a politician, in that it runs around furiously making noise like it knows what it is doing but it is generally lost. Still, it eventually gets most of the job done, seemingly despite itself.
In fact, it doesn't even seem to care if it does a good job -- it only seems to care that it looks busy. Oh, and I have five of them, but only a couple actually work (kind of like the U.S. Congress).
I just started testing a new robotic vacuum -- the Neato XV-11 -- and it works like you wish a politician worked. First, it doesn't make much noise until it orients itself and develops a plan, and then it executes that plan vastly more effectively than a Roomba. This is because it uses a technology similar to what is in robotic cars, and it is actually a vacuum -- not a powered sweeper. It does kind of sound like a jet engine when it is working, but you don't mind as much because it actually gets the job done.
First it maps out the room, then it develops a strategy to efficiently cover the space, and finally it executes that strategy, which is why I think it is smarter than most politicians who can't seem to figure out this order.
It could use a couple of improvements -- like a sensor that works like a cat's whiskers to keep it from going under things that will cause it to get stuck. A similar sensor on politicians might warn them away from saying stupid things, employing illegal aliens, or having affairs with co-workers.
Because we are in an election window, because I like robots a lot, and because this one seems to be smarter than a number of folks in or running for office, the Neato Robotic Vacuum Cleaner is my product of the week. Hmmm, I wonder if they would accept the Neato as a write-in candidate.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.