When developers insult you they start with a compliment…

“Mr Jobs, you’re a bright and influential man … and it’s sad and clear on several accounts that you don’t know what you’re talking about…” begins the developer at the 1997 Apple WWDC.

I don’t know if he continued with Apple or not, but if he didn’t he missed one of the greatest wealth creation engines in the history of the world — the iMac; iTunes; the iPod; and the iPhone. Sometimes principles are expensive.

What’s super interesting about this clip is the way that Steve manages the violent communication from the developer with a classic non-violent communication response.

Watch how he starts with “You can please some of the people some of the time, but…” and then completely stops and re-starts himself. He realized that he was about to counter the violent narrative of the developer with an equally violent rebuttal of his own. Part of me wishes I could have seen that — it would have been hilarious.

But when Steve tacked on his response he decided to do a couple of really interesting things.

First of all, he started by acknowledging that his inquisitor was, in fact, correct — probably on several fronts.

Then Steve re-frames the problem by saying: “The hardest thing is how does that fit into a larger cohesive vision that’s going to allow you to sell 8 billion, 10 billion dollars of product a year? You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

“You can’t start with the technology and try figure out where you’re going to sell it.” And Steve recognizes that he’s made this mistake many times, and has “…the scar tissue to prove it.”

He then goes onto say “What incredible benefits can we give to the customer? Where can we take the customer? Not starting with let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and then how we’re going to market that…”

And he closes with: “I readily admit there’s many things in life that I don’t have the faintest idea what I’m talking about and I apologize for that too.”

Many of these tactics are classic examples of Non-violent Communication (NVC). If you’re not familiar with the concept, check out the book Non-violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. It is the book which Satya Nadella of Microsoft credits with accelerating his career, and I know it has made a significant difference in my life.

The four components of Non-violent Communication are:

  • Observation: the facts (what we are seeing, hearing, or touching) as distinct from our evaluation of meaning and significance.
  • Feelings: emotions or sensations, free of thought and story. Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable by expressing our feelings can help resolve conflicts.
  • Needs: universal human needs, as distinct from particular strategies for meeting needs. It is posited that “Everything we do is in service of our needs.
  • Request: request for a specific action, free of demand. Requests are distinguished from demands in that one is open to hearing a response of “no” without this triggering an attempt to force the matter.

From Wikipedia:

Nonviolent Communication (abbreviated NVC, also called Compassionate Communication or Collaborative Communication is an approach to nonviolent living developed by Marshall Rosenberg beginning in the 1960s. It is based on the idea that all human beings have the capacity for compassion and only resort to violence or behavior that harms themselves and others when they do not recognize more effective strategies for meeting needs.[4] Habits of thinking and speaking that lead to the use of violence (social, psychological and physical) are learned through culture. NVC theory supposes all human behavior stems from attempts to meet universal human needs and that these needs are never in conflict. Rather, conflict arises when strategies for meeting needs clash. NVC proposes that people identify shared needs, revealed by the thoughts and feelings that surround these needs, and collaborate to develop strategies that meet them. This creates both harmony and learning for future cooperation

And of course Steve is completely correct — building products with the experience in mind first is how you create great products. Too many engineers work without the marketers and just build the tech, without a clear idea of how that lands as an experience. And today, consumers choose brands based on experience. In fact:

In a world where experience has become paramount — where in fact “experience is the new brand” — Steve Jobs was ahead of his time and he imbued Apple with a sustainable competitive advantage by making that philosophy part of Apple’s culture.

#SteveJobs #Apple #NVC #customerexperience