Jony Ive: Blindly Holding onto the Past Leads to Failure

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.

Sir Jony Ive of Apple
Sir Jony Ive

“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.

3 thoughts on “Jony Ive: Blindly Holding onto the Past Leads to Failure

  • This year has seen better things from Apple than the last couple of years. I never thought that I would buy another desktop Mac. A move and new work made for a decision between upgrading my MacBook Pro and buying a large screen monitor or keeping the 2013 laptop and getting an iMac. Apple made the decision for me with the refreshed iMacs this year. The 27” 5K with fusion drive and 24 GB of RAM is a pleasure to work on and the cost was lower than going with a new laptop. The kicker is that now I have my old laptop and the new iMac.

    While there are still some glaring holes in Apple’s upgrades; this year has seen real progress with the promise of more to come. As for the iPad being a computer, my iPad Air is certainly that but it doesn’t come close to the MacBook let alone the iMac in doing my work. That is not a good idea and no ad would change my mind. And no, the jumbo pro iPads would not change my thinking.

  • I agree with Ive that blindly holding onto the past can lead to failure. But what Apple fails to understand now is that blindly moving into the future can also lead to failure. I have been a hardcore supporter of Apple since it came into being; but, today, I no longer have a passion for Apple. Many of the changes it has made in recent years do little to advance personal computing. Rather, it smacks of corporate swagger, good enough for the masses, but hardly inspirational. Ironically, Apple has forgotten its roots, what made it stand out from the fray. Apple 3.0 is Apple 1.0 redux. It’s not that Apple can no longer produce excellence. Rather, it has shifted priorities that undermine greatness.

  • He certainly makes a compelling argument.

    At first I was upset about losing the headphone jack on the iPhone, but now with my AirPods I don’t miss the jack. I am sure that others feel differently, but there are certainly advantages to using the charging port for wired earbuds.

    This morning at the University Town Center grand reopening of the Apple Store I was playing with the iPhone X and found that I could quickly not miss having a home button. I almost walked out with one, but my birthday is 3 weeks away and Christmas is not far beyond it.

    Sometimes I still feel that they don’t get somethings right. Put the iOS App Store back in OSX iTunes or at least in a separate app so that we can more easily shop and arrange our apps.

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