Principles of Software Flow

Artistic Principles and Apple’s Success

Back in 1997 every body was talking about Apple.  Steve Jobs had just returned and many doubted his ability to turn the failing company around.

Michael Dell was outspoken in his opinion:

“What would I do? I’d shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders.”

At the end of this week the iPad is set for release here in the UK and Apple have overtaken Microsoft to become the biggest software technology company in the world.  They passed Dell years ago.

How did Job’s turn Apple around?  What did he do to achieve such great success?  During the launch of the iPad he suggested that it was by bringing together technology and the liberal arts.

Apple has been guided by artistic principles.  While strategy and tactics may change over time, principles do not.  They provide the constancy of purpose needed for long term success built on continuous improvement.

The artistic principles that guided the restoration of Apple are exactly the same as when the original Mac was being developed back in 1983, as Steven Levy explains:

“Macintosh does indeed have a distinctive demeanor, but this is a result of human effort and creativity – just as the traits of a character in a novel or film stem from the imagination of its author. It is essential to recognize that Macintosh’s creators viewed themselves as artists. Those who conceive of that term in the traditional manner – painters in smocks, poets in garrets, auteurs in film school – have to stretch a bit to snare this concept. The Mac creators are emblematic of a new kind of artist spawned by the protean nature of the computer.”

Over time Apple’s circumstances have changed dramatically.  They have been a rapidly growing start up and on the brink of collapse.  Now they are a mature company defining new markets.  During all of these periods they have been able to move forward and succeed guided by the same, consistent, unfaltering  artistic principles.

Are these artists a breed apart from the rest of us?  Can only the lucky few enjoy the luxury of artistic principles?  Can we only look on in envy at those who pursue their art and create something special?

I don’t believe so.  Personally I agree with Seth Godin when he says that anybody can be an artist:

“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? I don’t think it has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artist who works with oil paint or marble, sure. But there are artists who worked with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.”

I work with code and business models.  When I pursue my art I get the best results.  It isn’t alway easy, circumstance don’t always allow for great success, but as long as my intentions are pure and my communication is clear I can achieve something substantial.

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