Photo: Aimee Groth, Business Insider
The guy who created the iPod, Tony Fadell, is currently working on remaking the thermostat at his startup, Nest Labs.Fadell recently spoke at Behance’s 99% conference on creativity in New York City. He shared some insights on how to prototype, get big projects approved, and when to ignore the experts.
Here’s the best from his presentation, edited slightly for clarity:
On creativity — and what inspires him
It’s all about frustration.
I look at the world and peer into products and think, what’s wrong with these products?
When I was four or five years old, my grandfather showed me how to build things, paint, saw. Through years of fixing bikes, repairing lawn mowers, I learned how things work.
So it’s that frustration to see the world, understand how it’s built, and ask why it’s not built another way.
There are two different types of prototyping. First, the gut sense. You know how far you can take it. Second, you need experts o figure out whether or not it is attainable.
Sometimes the experts will tell you “no.” [You can’t always listen to them.]
I built a prototype for the iPod in the early days. I had an expert come in who had never seen the project because it was super secret. The expert goes, “It’ll never work. It’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard of.” The guy stormed off in a huff.
When you actually make somebody really upset, you might be on the right track.
You need to set near-term milestones. Put the assumptions down on paper, and make it to your vision or ultimate product. Your team has to understand where they’re going. Your partners need to understand where they’re going.
It’s very important that you always keep everyone on the team learning so they know why failure and success happens.
You don’t need everything in your first product. It’s usually too complicated. You must ship so the people on your team can put something on their resumes. What happens if you never ship? What will your people say at their next job?
You must – absolutely must – get your team to ship, acknowledge that they did something, whether it was right or wrong.
On bureaucracy — and getting projects approved
There are three essential things:
1 – Passion. It’s a thoughtful passion, not an egotistical passion. Communicate with those people you’re trying to get to move it forward.
2 – Presentation. Make them believe you’ve looked at all the details. They don’t just understand you know what it takes to build a project, but you understand the risks.
3 – Partnership. Make sure you’re talking to the right people. The absolute right people. The decision makers. Those who will help you when other teams around are jealous and want to stop the funding – and they can go take that team out.
Projects don’t die in the conceptual stage. They die weeks before they were going to launch.
Contrast that with Apple. Less than 2 per cent of projects ever die.
On getting results
Set constraints. You have to ship within a year. You can’t hold onto emotional team spirit for more than a year. People can’t commit for more than a year.
There are two different types of decisions when making a product. Fact-based decisions are really easy when everyone’s arguing over it. Making decisions based on opinions is very hard. If you say, “Let’s go get customers to tell us what they want, or let’s go get data” – in my experience, that’ll never work. You can take data after the fact but never before you ship. With opinion-based decisions, you must have a leader who can make those decisions and articulate why they are making those decisions.
I’m always doubtful. Everything I do is always doubtful. When you’re trying to differentiate, there’s going to be this gut sense, is this right? If you’re not having doubt, then you’re not pushing it hard enough, or you’re not looking at the details close enough. You need to be feeling that doubt every single day.
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