Sunday, August 28, 2011

Computer Chronicles: A History Jewel

I discovered Computer Chronicles back in the 90s, and it became my favorite show back then.

There's nothing like that nowadays. Having the genius Gary Kildall was a big plus.

I found this archive, with chapter which ran way before I discovered the show:

For those with interest in computer history, there's an amazing source of information.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Difference Between "Hearing" and "Listening" to our Customers

Many companies claim to listen to their customers, when what they really do is just to hear them. The difference might be subtle, but important. What's the difference?

Let's see the "focus group" approach. We meet with the customers, they say what they want, and we build exactly what they request. It looks like the right way, right? What could be better than giving the customers exactly what they request!

But, where's the flaw on this? The flaw is, most of the times, customers don't know what they need. It's not that they are dumb. Most of the times, customer are way smarter than we are. Now, what they know better than anybody is, what their problems are.

Those to just hear the customer don't care about the problem. They limit themselves to build what the customer asks for.

Those to listen to the customer put special care on what the problem is. They inquiry about it. They analyze it. They try to understand it beyond the scope of the process. They make it personal. The customer's request becomes a mere suggestion. And based on that the next step should be to deliver BEYOND the customer's expectations.

Beyond customer's expectations means to see the problems behind the problems, solving as many as we can with a simple, comprehensive solution, where the customer will no only see his problem solved, but his life improved.

And that's what makes the difference between top of the line and half-fast, between excellence and mediocrity, between being a leader and a follower. Real innovation comes from listening to our customers, from having empathy with them, from really understanding their issues, to see their problems and frustrations in ourselves. And in coming our with the best ways we would like it to be for ourselves.

Listening to our customers is becoming a lost trade, especially in the technology business. As an exercise, think about some of the companies you work with. Which ones really listen to you? Which ones limit themselves to hear you?

When a customer is listened to, a loyalty relationship is developed. The customer becomes a friend, someone who can ask us "what do you think about this? Is this good or bad for me?", pretty much as we do in a personal basis. If you limit yourself to hear your customer, you become a butler, a clerk, someone who just follows orders, despite of those being good or bad for the customer.

And that makes a big difference: A butler or a clerk can be replaced. A friend is forever.

So, challenge yourselves. Do you listen to your customers? The day you start doing it, your business will change forever.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why do we still need Steve Jobs

The news fell like a bomb. Steve Jobs is no longer Apple's CEO.

In less than 24 hours, a lot have been written about it. Coverage of Bill Gates's departure from Microsoft was not even close. So, why do I dare about writing more? Simply because since most people know the Steve Jobs which saved Apple from bankruptcy, to me he was one of my childhood heroes.

My first time in front of a computer was when in 1979, when I was 8 years old. I started programming in 1983, at the age of 12. Back then there was no Macintosh, and the most coveted computer for a kid like myself was the Apple IIe, a commodity almost unreachable in my country back then, because of the import taxes set by our incompetent politicians.

Even then, I used to enjoy collecting every single brochure (all in English) from every computer I saw in the fairs. How do I wish to have them now! Those would be nice collection pieces today. In one of those brochures was the short tale of two kids (almost teenagers) who founded a company by selling a minivan and a calculator. It was inspiring.

Steve Jobs has always been a complex character, a misunderstood person, a man with a different view of technology. To Steve Jobs, technology is a part of being human. It should not be something arcane and complex, that divides genius from common people, but something that makes us better human beings, which get us together, makes our life better. Nothing describes his vision better than the metaphor "a bicycle for the brain"

Let's highlight what Steve Jobs is NOT: He's not a brilliant programmer or engineer. He has no academic degrees. He did not design the Apple I or II. That merit goes 100% to his partner, Steve Wozniak. In that sense, people like Ed Roberts, Paul Allen, Gary Kildall and others are to be recognized for the creation of the technology itself.

Now, what Steve Jobs IS: He's an excellent judge of people's talent, who gets rid without any remorse of those he calls "bozos", keeping only the "genius". He's stubborn and driven. He believes in his own vision. He can fail. Projects like the Apple III, the Apple Lisa and the Mac Cube were big flops. He's perhaps the best presenter in the world. He's an unsatisfied perfectionist. And he has the passion of taking technology to the people.

Steve Jobs's innovation is sometimes misunderstood. I think it's worth recalling a little bit. The IBM PC was born as a reaction to the new personal computer trend, started by the Apple II. Windows and most of the other GUIs were born as a reaction to the Apple Macintosh. The newer generations can remember how listening to music was before and after the iPod, how the iPhone changed the phone as we knew it and how the iPad became the standard for tablet computers.

None of these inventions we created by Apple. The personal computer was created by Ed Roberts, the GUI, by Xerox, there were already MP3 players in the market, as well as smartphones (Blackberry and Palm). Regarding the tablet, I'd suggest to search the Compaq Concerto in Google. Nevertheless, none of these products took off. And the reason is easy enough to understand: They lacked the human touch. And it's there where Steve Jobs is above anybody else.

In today's world, technology companies are going through very dark times. Dell is a glorified assembler. HP is not even the shadow of what it used to be. Microsoft has no actual leadership nor direction. IBM has no consumer products. Oracle has dedicated to buy others and compete in areas it should have not get into. Google lacks of that human touch technology needs to blossom. Wall Street has contaminated Silicon Valley in a way that it's worth getting rid of the creative minds to make the stock go one point up. There's no long term thinking anymore. I've seen it myself in HP.

In this environment, Steve Jobs is a beacon of light in the darkness. He is who raised the quality demand bar for what a technology product must be. Steve Jobs made Apple what every technology company should be: A product-focus company, not a Wall Street expectations-focus company. And funny enough, is that vision what made Apple the most valuable company in the world.

Technology moves the world. And the world still needs Steve Jobs. As a matter of fact, the world needs more and new Steve Jobs. Something not easy to achieve, but a reachable goal, if one has enough will power to make the objective. And funny enough, that's another of Steve's lessons: With will power we can achieve the impossible.

My best wishes to Steve Jobs, and may he be doing what he always does, for many, many more years.