Perfectionism vs delivery

After being on my must-read list since its release two years ago, I finally managed to take some time and read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson.

In the context of startups & entrepreneurship it was very interesting to see that Jobs followed a contrary approach than what is nowadays considered best-practice within the startup community and taught on every startup event, namely ‘Lean Startup’. The term lean startup was coined by Eric Ries.

Jobs favoured ‘perfectionism over delivery’, meaning that he preferred to delay a product, if it was not completely perfect (see e.g. the original Macintosh or the Apple stores). On the contrary, the lean startup movement would urge you to build a minimum viable product and release it as soon as possible.

Another of Jobs’ views was that ‘the users don’t know what they want until we give it to them’. He underlined this with a quote by Henry Ford, who said, that ‘if we had asked what the users wanted, they would probably have asked for a faster horse’. Again, the lean startup movement would hold a contrary view, focussing on  user tests (early on) to find out what the user wants rather than developing a full (and visionary) product up front.

So Jobs was infringing two of the core principles of the lean startup movement. Yet he was able to create the biggest company by market cap in the world.

Having read Jobs biography, it really made me wonder about the lean startup principles and whether it is really desirable aspiring them. Now, Eric Ries is a really smart guy who made a fortune with his startups (and maybe even more selling his book) and his propositions seem really reasonable to me, especially from the point of view as a software developer (just naming agile development). However, Steve Jobs on the other side was able to create the most valuable company in the world following a different approach.

Being confronted with the term lean startup nearly everywhere I go, I once again realized that there is no one single truth in the software industry, although (sales?) people will tell you otherwise. So, we should not take this approach as the holy grail, but rather consider what other options there are, which positive & negative aspects each approach has and finally choose the one best suited for our venture.

Getting back from my lean startup digression to Jobs biography, another interesting point was Jobs ability to distort reality (see wiki ‘reality distortion field’) and make people do things they previously deemed impossible. Surprisingly, it seemed to work most of the times and although it must have been difficult to work with Jobs, most people interviewed for the book described it as an experience they would not want to miss.

Walter Isaacson has written an extremely fascinating portray of techies’ messiahs, wich will drastically reduce your sleep time until finishing the book. For all upcoming entrepreneurs and founders definitely a must-read, for everyone else its definitely also worth reading.

Written on October 2, 2013