Apple Chief Design Officer Sir Jony Ive offered a simply, yet powerful message. In an interview with Time magazine on Thursday, Sir Jony said that blindly holding onto the past leads to failure. The comment came in regards to Apple’s decision to ditch the headphone jack in iPhone 7 and the Home button on iPhone X.
“I actually think the path of holding onto features that have been effective, the path of holding onto those whatever the cost, is a path that leads to failure,” Sir Jony said. “And in the short term, it’s the path the feels less risky and it’s the path that feels more secure.”
He added, “It’s not necessarily the most comfortable place to be in when you believe there’s a better way [because] that means moving on from something that has felt successful.”
A Different Way of Claiming Courage
This is a more nuanced way to say what Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller said during iPhone 7’s release. During the keynote event for that device, Mr. Schiller said Apple had the “courage” to remove the headphone jack. Many felt that statement smacked of hubris, which might be true, but hubris doesn’t make the statement itself any less true.
And Sir Jony’s comments explain the philosophy behind Mr. Schiller’s statement. That philosophy is at the heart of Apple’s approach since the return and passing of the late Steve Jobs.
Reality Distortion Field
He also spoke about the process of finding news ways of doing things in a startling powerful way, saying [emphasis added]:
Paying attention to what’s happened historically actually helps give you some faith that you are going to find a solution. Faith isn’t a surrogate for engineering competence, but it can certainly help fuel the belief that you’re going to find a solution. And that’s important.
I love this statement, the way it’s worded. To me, Sir Jony is striking right to the heart of Steve Jobs’s reality distortion field (RDF). That phrase is often used for those times Steve Jobs would convince us that something was better than it was. “You’re holding it wrong” was one such incident, when he was addressing the so-called Antennagate controversy on iPhone 4 signal attenuation.
But that’s just one version of the RDF. Many of Apple’s most stunning accomplishments happened when Steve Jobs convinced a team of engineers they could do something everyone knew couldn’t be done. By insisting it be done anyway—sometimes with ridiculous deadlines—time and again they did it.
This is exactly what Sir Jony was talking about, only he’s approaching it from the opposite direction as the RDF. And perhaps that’s why Apple appears to be the best at fostering this sort of faith-based approach to innovation. Believing you can do what others consider impossible may be the very heart and soul of working at Apple.