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Attack Products

Whether invading countries or markets, the first wave of troops to see battle are the commandos... Commandos parachute behind enemy lines or quietly crawl ashore at night. A start-up's biggest advantage is speed, and speed is what commandos live for. They work hard, fast, and cheap, though often with a low level of professionalism, which is okay, too, because professionalism is expensive. Their job is to do lots of damage with surprise and teamwork, establishing a beachhead before the enemy is even aware that they exist. Ideally, they do this by building the prototype of a product that is so creative, so exactly correct for its purpose that by its very existence it leads to the destruction of other products. They make creativity a destructive act. more...

    -- Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely

I was thinking about this in the context of Yahoo and Microsoft's competition with Google on search, compared with Steve Jobs and the dazzling launch of the iPhone.

On one hand you have essentially copycat search products which, while perhaps competently implemented, haven't significantly innovated the space or gained back any market share.

On the other hand, the iPhone's design is so dazzling that it's left designers worldwide gaping in open-mouthed awe.

Mike Davidson:

There are so many things to say about this iPhone that it's hard to know where to start. To me, the single most impressive thing about it is that, like a lot of Apple products but specifically this one, there is no other company in the world capable of inventing it. How many times do you see a new product come out and you think "Damn, I wish I would have thought of that!"

The iPhone is no such product.

You couldn't think of it, and even if you did, your finished product would be a godamned fingerpainting compared to this. It is so fulfilling to watch technology unfold like this, in the hands of the most indispensable and world-changing CEO of our lifetime. It makes all other work you may be doing in the technology world seem like peanuts.

When Apple says they are five years ahead of every other phone on the market with this offering, they are being conservative.

Jeffry Friedl:

Motorola has been around for a long time... has it never learned anything about designing a product for humans to use? ...

I watched the introduction of Apple's iPhone today ... and was astounded, not that the iPhone seems to have such a great user-interface design (although it does), but that it's so great in the face of a history of moronic phone design.

This isn't just a slick PR machine success. This is a genuinely stunning product, something "that is so creative, so exactly correct for its purpose that by its very existence it leads to the destruction of other products." How do you ship something so great it leaves the top people in the field awestruck?

How is it possible that Steve Jobs runs big, old Apple like a lean startup? And not just any average startup, but a kick-down-the-doors successful one. Repeatably, too!

This usually gets chalked up to the cult of the genius. Sure Jobs is a genius, but management theory is all about getting good results out of large groups of people with varying talents. And Jobs doesn't have a monopoly on all the smart people in the valley. If you're in charge of managing product development somewhere, isn't there some playbook (something like The Innovator's Dilemma) for how to organize your team to more reliably ship devastatingly effective, innovative products instead of me-too, committee-designed clone exercises that fail to achieve their goals?

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A number of commenters have interpreted my winner-takes-all post as saying that I don't think startups have a chance taking on Google. Not at all. My point was that Microsoft and Yahoo have the same chance as any startup at... [Read More]

Comments (3)

Maybe it's just that Jobs has excellent taste. You never see any crappy products, just the awesome shit that makes it past his filter. There's still a hulking corporation behind the curtain that you never see.

Hey Brennan. Coding Horror finds evidence that you're dead on: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000769.html

"Sure Jobs is a genius, but management theory is all about getting good results out of large groups of people with varying talents."

I suspect that the key contributors to the great products at Apple come from a very, very small number of people. I'm guessing most of Apple's workforce is either paid labor and/or dead weight, simply to keep "the big wheel turning."

Without further knowledge, my guess would be that there are probably ~30-40 key contributors to Apple's success.

Of course, all those people who "keep the big wheel turning" are important--well, the wheel needs to keep turning, right? But, my guess is they're not all directly involved with the "category killer" products that Apple creates. My hunch is that only those select few folks come up with these ideas and have the ability to implement them.

In which case, if this is true, all that big management theory stuff doesn't really apply, after all.

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