I recently read Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. It holds many examples of the ways in which Jobs could cut to the heart of a problem or describe an elegant solution in a simple way.
One example in particular leapt off the page for me, and I have found that it applies to many things in everyday life – especially in my work.
When Apple was developing the iPod, Jobs argued that as many functions as possible should be built into iTunes. In other words, instead of browsing for music, purchasing it, sorting and labeling it, and collecting it into playlists all in your music-playing device (the iPod), you would perform all those functions on your computer – and the music player would be just that – a device for playing music, plain and simple.
["Put the complexity in the right place"]
Jobs said that the reason other companies' portable music players hadn't caught on was that "they were complicated" (chapter 30). He continued:
So by owning the iTunes software and the iPod device, that allowed us to make the computer and the device work together, and it allowed us to put the complexity in the right place."
Jobs had put the complexity where it belonged another time, about ten years earlier. Isaacson describes Jobs' reaction to Apple's convoluted product line when he returned to Apple as interim CEO in the mid-1990s (ch. 25):
He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. "Here's what we need," he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote "Consumer" and "Pro"; he labeled the two rows, "Desktop" and "Portable." Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant.
Putting the complexity in the right place
How does this apply to advancement?
We have a hard time packaging the programs and services we deliver to alumni. There are so many events, benefits, volunteer roles, and points of contact that we are constantly scheming to combine, describe, and explain them to our audience.
Could we simplify our business enough to obtain a Jobsian degree of clarity? It's not as if Apple only had four products, despite the 2x2 matrix. In this example, the "Pro Desktop" quadrant was eventually filled by the Power Macintosh G3. But once the consumer had settled on the G3 as the product of choice, there were a few different configurations (memory, processor, and storage) to choose from. Jobs didn't take away choice entirely – he just put the complexity of choosing in the right place.
[Make it easy for individuals to understand what we offer,
and to make the decision to buy in]
What would it look like if our 2x2 matrix just had "Students" and "Alumni" at the top, and "Social" and "Professional" down the side? Or maybe, "Engaged" and "Non-engaged" at the top, and rows labeled "Online" and "Offline"?
Or it could be 3x3, and the offerings could be labeled however you wish.
It doesn't matter what the labels are. The point is to make it easy for individuals to understand what we offer, and to make the decision to buy in. Then we can provide choices that make sense to a subset of our overall audience.
Have you done this? How? Did it work?
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