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乔布斯在设计与管理领域自由游走的启示

Bill Buxton 2011年09月23日

苹果的专利果真都是乔布斯发明的吗?微软研究员比尔•巴克斯顿会告诉你:没错。而更重要的是,仔细研究乔布斯处理设计发明与公司管理的手法还能让各行各业的经理人受益无穷。

    上月底,《纽约时报》(The New York Times)刊载了一篇文章,让我觉得既有趣又惊讶。该文章称史蒂夫•乔布斯是313项专利的发明人,而且还是其中逾10%专利的主发明人。这些基本上全是设计专利,从MP3播放器到电源适配器,甚至是苹果商店的楼梯无所不包。对于一个从未接受过正式的设计或技术培训的人来说,这已经是件相当意思的事了,更何况他还是一家大公司的首席执行官(他发明的专利数量之多令所有高管同行们相形见绌)。

    有些人怀疑乔布斯是否真的对这些专利有贡献,我会告诉他们不用怀疑。根据我的经验,乔布斯的确参与了专利的发明。如果一个人对专利没有做出合法贡献,苹果公司(Apple)不会笨到把他的名字放在上面,像乔布斯这样声名显赫的人,就更加不可能了。原因很简单,造假不但会导致专利作废,而且东窗事发后,苹果公司及其品牌都将面临巨大的损失。苹果是多面的,但与愚蠢绝缘。

    既然乔布斯对这些专利的贡献是合法的,我们从中可以得到哪些启示?(要找到有意义的答案,最好别忘了帕科•昂德希尔说过的话,他说:“明显的东西并不总是显而易见。”)有两点最为突出:在这313项专利中,只有略多于10%的专利主发明人是乔布斯,在全部专利中只占少数,但并不寒碜!而设计师乔纳森•埃维是这313项专利中64%专利的共同发明人。

    这就好比事物的两面性。第一,乔布斯没有把设计完全交给更专业的乔纳森,而是充分参与其中,与乔纳森合作发明了200多项专利。第二,尽管乔布斯大量参与设计,但设计团队的负责人却是高管乔纳森。这再次印证了在这方面表现出色的多数公司带给我们的启示:公司必须要有专门负责设计的高管,而且他们必须最大限度地参与设计。

    然而,虽然聘请一个设计方面的高管是可以效仿的,或许也确实有必要,但盲目模仿乔布斯参与设计的方式却很值得怀疑。要保持竞争力,模仿他人的独特之处很难获得同样的成功。乔布斯是个特例,本文中对他的描述反映的是他独特的个性和罕见的激情。他做的事情与他天性有关,但对你我而言就不一定了。

    做自己天生不擅长的事情,试图复制他人的成功,最终都将是徒劳无获的,不论效仿的对象是史蒂夫•乔布斯还是其他人。每个人都必须忠实于自己的天性和能力,就算事实证明自己天性浮浅和/或虚伪,也要坦然面对。尽管如此,忠实于自己的天性并不意味着我们就有理由忽略某些我们天生不擅长的事情,如果它们是事业成功的关键。高管需要了解自己的弱项和强项,确保公司的重要阵地得到有效覆盖。

    文章话里话外都有值得我们学习的经验。文章没有明确指出的一点是,由于乔布斯过于专注设计,因此不得不忽略了公司的其他事务。但仔细分析苹果公司后发现,“被忽略”的部门与设计团队的表现同样一直很不错(我在其他地方写过)。如果真要学习苹果公司和乔布斯,也不要学他怎样设计(除非你真的是这块料)。相反,需要学习的是他在和乔纳森及其设计团队一起工作的同时,如何对其他部门进行放权管理。然后才是学习如何管理自己不在行的事情,比如说设计。

    最后,虽说乔布斯发明了这些专利,但他并不是一名设计师。过去不是,现在也不是。而且我相信他可能也不会以此自居。他说过苹果的成功之道在于管理消费者的体验。我觉得这话说得很有道理。所以尽管我觉得乔布斯不是设计师,但我坚信他是我见过和认识的最伟大的管理者。正是因为这一点,我一直都很尊敬他。

    自上世纪70年代末以来,比尔•巴克斯顿一直致力于互动系统的创造、研究、应用和报道,尤其是从人文角度。他历任施乐帕克研究中心(Xerox PARC)、Alias|Wavefront和硅谷图形公司(Silicon Graphics)的研究员,目前供职于微软研究院(Microsoft Research)。

    Late last month, The New York Times published an article that both interested and surprised me. Steve Jobs is cited as an inventor on 313 patents and is the first listed inventor on over 10% of them. Almost all are design patents, running the gamut from MP3 players to power adaptors to the stairs in the Apple Store. Pretty interesting for someone with no formal design or technical training, much less the CEO of a major corporation. (His patent count eclipses that of any of his CEO counterparts.)

    To the skeptics asking if Steve really contributed, I say of course. Based on my own experience, I find Steve's participation entirely credible. Apple (AAPL) would be stupid to put anyone's name on a patent, much less a high profile name like Steve's, if that person hadn't made a legitimate contribution. Doing so would not only invalidate the patent, it would expose the company and its brand to serious damage when revealed. Apple is many things; stupid is not one of them.

    Taking Steve's contribution to the patents as legitimate, what lessons might there be in the revelation? (In trying to come to some useful answer, it is probably worth keeping Paco Underhill's observation in mind: The obvious is not always apparent.) Two points stand out: Steve was lead inventor on just over 10% of the 313 cited patents on which he is named -- a significant minority, but not too shabby! Designer Jonathan Ive was named as co-inventor on 64% of those 313.

    These make a two-sided coin. First, rather than leave design in Jonathan Ive's competent hands, Steve still got sufficiently engaged that he and Jonathan collaborated on over 200 patents. Second, despite his intense involvement with the design organization, Steve still had a senior executive, Jonathan, in charge of design. What this reinforces is a lesson that is taught by most companies that excel in this area: you must have a senior design executive, and they must engage at the highest level.

    However, while having a senior design executive is something that can and likely should be emulated, blindly trying to emulate the nature of Steve's involvement is rather more questionable. Copying the exceptions is seldom an appropriate path to follow if one wants to be competitive. Steve was exceptional, and what is described in this article is a reflection of his character and his particular passions. He did what was natural to him. But that does not make it natural for you or me.

    Adopting a nature alien to one's own in an effort to copy someone else's success -- be it Steve Jobs' or anyone else's -- is a mug's game. One has to be true to one's own nature and aptitudes, or be prepared to face the inevitability of being exposed as superficial and/or insincere. That being said, being true to one's own nature does not justify the neglect of key aspects of one's business lying outside of it. Executives need to know their own weaknesses as well as their strengths in order to make sure that all of the requisite ground is covered.

    We can learn from both what is and is not said. What this article does not point out is that in allocating so much attention to design, Steve had to neglect other aspects of the business. And yet, a careful analysis of Apple shows that those "neglected" parts were consistently performing just as well as the design group (I write about this elsewhere.). If one does want to learn from Apple, and emulate Steve, don't emulate what he did with design (unless it is truly in your nature). Rather, study how he managed the delegation of those other aspects of the business while he was working with Jonathan and the design team. Then emulate that in managing the things that fall outside of your own personal comfort zone -- such as design, for example.

    Finally, these patents notwithstanding, Steve Jobs was not, and is not, a designer. Nor, I suspect, would he ever describe himself as such. He spoke about Apple's success in terms of curating the customer's experience. I think that is a great way to put it. And so, while I don't consider him a designer, I do believe that he is certainly one of the greatest curators that I have ever met, or know of. And for that, he has always had my respect.

    Since the late 70's Bill Buxton has been creating, studying, using and writing about interactive systems, especially from the human perspective. He has been a researcher at Xerox PARC, Alias|Wavefront, Silicon Graphics, and currently Microsoft Research.

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