I really like this exerpt from “The Triumph of the Nerds: The Rise of Accidental Empires”, Steve Jobs and the Parable of the Stones – so much that I have provided a snippet below with my bolding to accent the stone theme.
We all know the genius of Steve Jobs to take innovative ideas to highly successful business results. He is an example of my proposition that taking innovative ideas to successful products is the tough part, especially for large businesses. Without leaders like Jobs who got his hands really dirty in the product design and manufacture stages, and gave the green light to projects that failed (Lisa, Newton) but still pursued new projects, Apple would not be the powerhouse it is.
My proposition is that there is plenty of innovative ideas floating out there in businesses but the biggest obstacle is taking them to the market successfully. This is why most innovative products come from small start-ups where there is little competition for limited budgets and resources. In large organizations, by far the greatest energy is put into presenting many business plans across several levels of management who are not being awarded for taking any risks.
Here is the story of Steve and the stones (not the Rolling ones!):
You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen.
And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.
Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.
And it’s that process that is the magic.
And so we had a lot of great ideas when we started [the Mac]. But what I’ve always felt that a team of people doing something they really believe in is like is like when I was a young kid there was a widowed man that lived up the street. He was in his eighties. He was a little scary looking. And I got to know him a little bit. I think he may have paid me to mow his lawn or something.
And one day he said to me, “come on into my garage I want to show you something.” And he pulled out this dusty old rock tumbler. It was a motor and a coffee can and a little band between them. And he said, “come on with me.” We went out into the back and we got just some rocks. Some regular old ugly rocks. And we put them in the can with a little bit of liquid and little bit of grit powder, and we closed the can up and he turned this motor on and he said, “come back tomorrow.”
And this can was making a racket as the stones went around.
And I came back the next day, and we opened the can. And we took out these amazingly beautiful polished rocks. The same common stones that had gone in, through rubbing against each other like this (clapping his hands), creating a little bit of friction, creating a little bit of noise, had come out these beautiful polished rocks.
That’s always been in my mind my metaphor for a team working really hard on something they’re passionate about. It’s that through the team, through that group of incredibly talented people bumping up against each other, having arguments, having fights sometimes, making some noise, and working together they polish each other and they polish the ideas, and what comes out are these really beautiful stones.