TORONTO – Guy Kawasaki can recall a handful of religious experiences in his life: meeting his future wife, accepting Jesus Christ as his saviour, seeing an Apple Macintosh for the first time and, at the age of 48, stepping onto the ice to play hockey.
It happened after taking his children to a San Jose Sharks game, and Kawasaki, a former software evangelist for Apple, noticed how many business people sitting in the arena were paying more attention to their personal digital assistants than what was happening around the goal posts.
“My wife told me she didn’t want our children to grow up in a world like that. She wanted us to be involved with the world – and she asked me to coach our kids’ hockey team,” Kawasaki said. “It would be like asking a Canadian to be a surfing coach after stepping into the water for the first time.”
Kawasaki was speaking as part of an event that explored the future of technology hosted by Deloitte on Wednesday. His foray into hockey was an example of the risk-taking spirit he said companies need to take, even if the results are less than perfect.
“In Silicon Valley we have a saying: We ship, and then we test. Those of you who brought Windows Vista yesterday and are installing it will find that out today,” he joked. “When we launched the Mac in 1984, when I look back I can tell you it had elements of crap in it. There was no software for it . . . there was no hard disk drive . . . but if we had waited for all the software, for the fastest chips, we would have missed our opportunity.”
Kawasaki said he was not advocating poor product design but that a truly revolutionary product could be forgiven for some bugs. Another lesson Kawasaki learned from those early days at Apple was that customers won’t necessarily use a product the way vendors assume they will.
“In 1984 we thought people would use a computer for three things: spreadsheets, a database and word processing,” he said, noting that instead, Apple’s Mac ended up being adopted by desktop publishing professionals who paired it with Aldus PageMaker, a trend which boosted the company’s fortunes. “I have to believe in God, because nothing else would explain Apple’s survival.”
Kawasaki, who left Apple for a second time a few years ago to lead venture capital firm Garage Technology Ventures, characterized Apple in its infancy as the largest collection of egos in Silicon Valley, where freshly squeezed orange juice and on-site massages for employees were the norm. There was intense competition and resentment between the product groups, however. While the Apple II was the breadwinner at the time, the Mac development group (where Kawasaki worked at the time) refused to let Apple II team members enter their building. “The Mac hadn’t even shipped,” he said. “The Apple II team was essentially paying for the building they weren’t being allowed into.”
The arrogance among designers and engineers eventually hurt Apple, Kawasaki said. “We really thought we had built the perfect computer. It was the (Apple chief executive) Steve Jobs reality distortion field. It took us two years to get over that (attitude).”
Apple tried to increase the Mac’s adoption by meeting regularly with CIOs, Kawasaki said, who told the company that the computer lacked features such as letter-quality printer drivers and integration with products like Lotus 1-2-3. The company worked to meet those needs, he said, only to have CIOs ask for a hundred more.
“It’s very hard to switch the religion of an atheist,” he said. “It’s much better to deal with an agnostic – someone who’s neutral about the technology.”
Kawasaki praised products that are “deep” or whose designs allow for multiple purposes. He gave the example of a Reef Fanning sandal, the bottom of which contains a metal bar that can be used to open beer bottles.
However Neil Foggat, a senior researcher at Deloitte who presented the consulting firm’s top 10 technology predictions at the event, warned against taking multi-function concepts too far. He cited an magazine ad for a radiator that also contains an FM radio.
“Who exactly thought that customers would want a product like this,” he asked, arguing that it will be customers, not vendors, that determine the future direction of product design. Foggat, who previously worked at a satellite communications company, recalled a colleague who presented what he believed was the future revenue-generator for the firm: a text-message game to be played on mobile phones that featured dinosaurs as characters. “I lost the will to live at that point.”
Kawasaki echoed this sentiment as he looked back on a slew of poor product ideas he has been pitched as a venture capitalist. “It’s no wonder I’m going deaf in one ear,” he said.