If innovating isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong

A couple of weeks ago, Rob Adank and me drove to a meeting in Rob’s car. We talked (it’s amazingly difficult to play a game of tennis while driving) and somehow, our conversation found its way to Apple and Microsoft. Alright, I confess, I’m probably guilty of that. Like hordes of people, I am mildly fascinated by both companies: by their vast success, in which they are comparable, and the way they do things, in which they are completely different.

Well, you may contest the notion that these companies are so different. There’s something to be said for either view. In any case, Rob talked me into co-authoring a column in which we go into one notable similarity between the former CEO of each company. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are known for, let’s put it mildly, giving their people a hard time.

Our column’s in Dutch, so let me summarize the gist of it: innovation, and product development in particular, is supposed to be about creating customer value. But particularly in the field of technological innovation, it is always fearfully silent when it comes to human aspects, in particular the employees of the innovating companies.

Sure, we have had our fill by now from the Foxconn suicides that are linked in the media to Apple. But we hear relatively little about people who are driven too hard within Apple or Microsoft themselves. Yet, there will undoubtedly be such people. Not only as a matter of statistics – if you have a big company, there will be dissatisfied people. Also as a result of the management style of the people at the top. That style tends to propagate through a company and become an inseparable part of the corporate culture.

I personally loathe a management style that drives people to the point where they only just keep functioning. Permanently Tiptoeing tends to result in injuries. It is also, in a sense, an insult to those people who carefully balance their effort at work with their long-term physical and mental health. Driving people really hard may yield great results in the short term (although even that is debatable), but it tends to create wreckage in the long term.

In our column, Rob and me argue that innovators should add another target to their relentless efforts to serve customers’ (future) needs: the process of innovation itself should ideally be fun. I believe that on a large scale and in the long term, this creates more value than churning out new technology at an insane speed. If only because if we all get too wrapped up in this, there won’t be any customers left to appreciate this wonderful new technology.

A lot has been said about Gates and Jobs. In this wonderful age of omnipresent media, here are a few videos that nicely complement the column Rob and me wrote earlier this year.

A documentary on Steve Jobs:

And one on Bill Gates, in 6 parts:

And the famous 2007 interview with both Gates and Jobs:


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