Getting to Yes, And

Ken Kocienda: Designing Creativity at Apple


Ken Kocienda

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Kelly dials up Ken Kocienda who was on the design team at Apple to talk about innovation, Steve Jobs and developing the iPhone.

You have a very interesting quote in your book, you write “People matter more than programming.” Unpack that for us.

“Well, you would think our work at Apple was really focused very much on making product, at least superficially. But If you step back a little bit and if you asked any of my colleagues - and certainly if you asked Steve jobs who was really instrumental in setting the cultural environment for Apple at the time. We realized that the purpose of our work was to make these products useful and meaningful to people. So that also then reflected back into how we pursued the work - in that collaboration was an important part of making progress. So I think there's an image of Silicon Valley software people focusing on computers and technologies to the nth degree and maybe not so much on the people aspect to the work, the implications of the work, what it means to combine complementary strengths from people who have different backgrounds or look at the world differently or just have a different opinion about how a feature or product is turning out. And so that's what I was trying to get to with that statement.”

In reading your book but also biographies of Steve Jobs, it seems like the contradiction here is that you had a person who exhibited very little empathy in his personal and business relationships - but had an incredible ability to empathize with Apple’s customers.

“I think that's actually pretty accurate. I can't really speak to his personal life. That's not how I interacted with him. But I did spend enough time with him to see how he interacted in a professional setting. And I think you're right in that he was a very willing to speak in a way that can be very intimidating. And yet he somehow had this discrete capacity to put himself in the position of people in the world who would be interacting with these products, who would do something like buy an iPhone. He could envision what the experience of a person who wasn't involved in high tech who doesn't really know or care very much about how software and hardware function. And Apple's goal was to give people the benefits of the technology that we spent all of our time working on in such a way that, that these benefits came through without having to be a gadget freak. And so Steve had this amazing ability to position himself as customer number one.”

This is specifically true for me when I travel and you mention how great it is when you are on a flight, the plane lands, and so many people pull out their iPhones to text or call their loved ones.

“The experience of seeing people use your work and people seeing people use my work out in the world is something that never really gets old. Even though I've left Apple now, that initial work on the keyboard I did many years ago still doesn't get old because I've been able to see that moment where you type to your wife, hey, look, I'm safe. I've landed and I love you. It is a wonderful moment. It's very gratifying to me to have made some of the technology that makes that possible.”

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