The Distance Between A Great Idea and “An Elegant, Really Beautiful Solution That Works”

An elegant handmade tool for making elegant handmade furniture (photo by Visitflanders, CC 2.0 licensed)

One of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease. And that disease—I’ve seen other people get it, too—it’s the disease of thinking that a having a great idea is really 90 percent of the work. And if you just tell people, ‘here’s this great idea,’ then of course they can go off and make it happen. The problem with that is that there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a having a great idea and having a great product. (Steve Jobs, 1995)

The good stuff in product management happens when new concepts start to emerge as you work, based on or sparked from other ideas bashing together, and human insight, and touch and feel and a sense of elegance. Where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts.

Unfortunately, lots of people think of product management as if simply having an idea is the hard part, and turning that idea into a product is just a simple process of A-to-B. Partly because that’s what they’ve experienced with other business processes, which are mostly just complicated – lots of moving parts, but fitting together in a well-understood way. This is not how good products arise – things that seem obvious at first turn out not to be, while things that seem hard at first often end up simple. Jobs understood this better than anyone, and he said so often.

When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem – and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works. (Steve Jobs again.)

I’m inspired every time I read this quote.

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5 comments

  1. I assume you're quoting Steve Jobs here, right?

  2. […] a great product, this time from the inventor of the Aerobie flying ring. Steve Jobs said “there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a having a great idea and having a great …,” but it’s not just craftsmanship – there are obstacles of all kinds, as Adler […]

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