Insights on Collaborating with Steve Jobs

Glenn Reid now runs an industrial and product design firm, but in the past worked at NeXT with Steve Jobs as Product Manager in the early ’90s, and then later at Apple building iMovie 1.0.

In working on iMovie, Gleen had a chance to collaborate directly with Jobs, and he describes the experience as a very democratic one, devoid of ego.

Throwing Things Into the Idea ‘Cauldron’

“One of the things about designing products that can come up is Ego, or Being Right, or whatever that is called. I’m not sure how this evolved, but when I worked with Steve on product design, there was kind of an approach we took, unconsciously, which I characterize in my mind as a “cauldron”. There might be 3 or 4 or even 10 of us in the room, looking at, say, an iteration of iPhoto. Ideas would come forth, suggestions, observations, whatever. We would “throw them into the cauldron”, and stir it, and soon nobody remembered exactly whose ideas were which. This let us make a great soup, a great potion, without worrying about who had what idea. This was critically important, in retrospect, to decouple the CEO from the ideas. If an idea was good, we’d all eventually agree on it, and if it was bad, it just kind of sank to the bottom of the pot. We didn’t really remember whose ideas were which — it just didn’t matter.”

Iteration is the Key to Product Design

“I can still remember some of those early meetings, with 3 or 4 of us in a locked room somewhere on Apple campus, with a lot of whiteboards, talking about what iMovie should be (and should not be). It was as pure as pure gets, in terms of building software. Steve would draw a quick vision on the whiteboard, we’d go work on it for a while, bring it back, find out the ways in which it sucked, and we’d iterate, again and again and again. That’s how it always went. Iteration. It’s the key to design, really. Just keep improving it until you have to ship it.”

Also, You Can Tell a Lot About a Company by Their Bathrooms

Another anecdote about Jobs’ approach to collaboration comes out of his insistance that in the Pixar offices and maim campus, there be only two bathrooms, in a central space:

“No one wants to have to walk 15 minutes to go to the bathroom. And yet Steve insisted that this is the one place everyone has to go every day.” “But he wanted there to be mixing. He knew that when you’re talking about a creative endeavor that requires people from different cultures to come together, you have to force them to mix; that our natural tendency is to stay isolated, to talk to people who are just like us, who speak our private languages, who understand our problems. But that’s a big mistake. And so his design was to force people to come together even if it was just going to be in the bathroom.”