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Why Steve Jobs Took it Slow: The Key to Making a Perfect Product

In an age of Lean and MVPs, remember that nothing will sell better than a perfect product. This is a defense of going slow—and the books to back it up.
by Tom Anderson | Nov 14 2016

Slow it down

Have you ever sipped a Macallan M whisky? If you have then you’ve certainly done well for yourself; a bottle of this spirit will set you back around $3,500. Most of us might think that paying that much for a bottle of hooch is a bit ridiculous, but there is a reason it costs so much. It took Bob Dalgarno, the master whisky maker behind the M, more than two years to craft, and it contains a blend of the world’s finest whiskies—some which date back to 1940. All this time spent on making the drink ensured that it was of the highest possible quality.

Taking the time to craft a product as perfect as Macallan M isn’t exactly in vogue in the modern world. An excellent expression of this attitude is the vastly popular Minimal Viable Product, or MVP: a quick and dirty version of a product which you can show to potential users in order to get immediate feedback. While this approach can provide vital early data on whether a product is useful or not, it isn’t always the best approach. Potential customers might be forever driven away by a poor first experience. It’s worth it, then, to take your time and get it right.

Slowness makes perfect

Sometimes the benefits of going it slow are too obvious to ignore. For example, Steve Jobs’s passion for crafting beautiful, well-designed, and perfectly functioning products led to some of the most innovative and successful artifacts of all time. The Apple II, the groundbreaking home computer released in 1977, is a wonderful case in point. According to Jobs’s biographer, Walter Isaacson, the Apple founder went through over 2,000 shades of beige when looking for the perfect color for the machine, and he spent days agonising over how round the corners of the case should be. Although this slow, deliberative approach upset a lot of Apple managers, they did help ensure that the computer was a huge success: between 1977 and 1980 it made over $118 million in sales.

As beneficial as spending time on something is, it isn’t easy to carve out the necessary time. Often, that time-poor feeling has little to do with an actual paucity of hours in the day. It’s actually distractions that rob you of the time you could be using for focused work. Consider this: according to author John Freeman, the average American worker is distracted over 11 times an hour, mostly by email. This means that even if we wanted to spend an age perfecting something, we simply wouldn’t have enough bandwidth.

But maybe wider isn’t the answer, anyway. You can free up the time you need by going deeper.

Getting to know Deep Work

Cal Newport’s. book Deep Work. offers suggestions on how we can all cut through the noise and the constant requests for our attention to better devote large chunks of our days to focused, important work. In these periods we switch off our emails and social media, ensure that we can’t be distracted by others, and focus on one important task. If we follow Newport’s advice and create these pockets of focused work, then we can stop rushing things and start perfecting them.

There are three ways to practice Deep Work, so you can find one that works for you.

The 3 kinds of Deep Work

1. The monastic approach. Take yourself away from the world and focus exclusively on your endeavor. Mark Twain used this approach when writing; he used his own little shed where he’d shut out the world and devote all his focus to his work.
2. The bimodal approach. Rather than spending your whole day in seclusion, divide your day in two. One period can be spent with your email and social media turned off in deep work, the other working as normal.
3. The rhythmic approach. This is the best for those who don’t have that much time available. Here you block off shorter, 90 minute periods for focused work. Although this doesn’t seem like much, you’ll be amazed by how much great work you’ll get done.

Remember that on the way to making magic, speed isn’t always the most important thing. It can be more rewarding (and more lucrative) to settle down, get focused, and take the time to create something perfect.

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