Did Steve Jobs Drink Steve Blank’s Milkshake or Kool-Aid?

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on planes this week and as a result have had a chance to catch up on a few books that I’ve been meaning to read. In my stack for this trip (yes, stack, I actually carry real books in a real bag) was one I’ve been hearing great reviews and implementations of called 4 Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank. Admittedly, its a fairly dry read so I’ve been slowly working my way through it but I’m struck by a few of his ideas and how they apply, or don’t, to how Steve Jobs operates particulally in light of the iPad launch yesterday.

Blank posits that to successfully launch a company or product one needs to create a system for what he calls “Customer Development” which includes a process of validating assumptions about your product based on pre-emptive customer feedback and direction. This, he goes on, should inform your Product Development thus creating feedback loops which validate market fit BEFORE investing time and resources into staffing up to deliver a product for whom there may be no real customer base or urgent application.

Enter the iPad and the Jobsian path of product development; which, on the surface may seem counter to Blanks ideas around Customer Development yet still succeed time and time again. The product launch video actually begins with Jonathan Ive suggesting that users won’t know they need it until they see, feel and use it. Hmm, doesn’t sound much like “we want to know what our customer needs” rather “we’ll tell them what they need” Which, on the surface, would appear that one Steve is drinking the others milkshake.

And blogs and twitter are lighting up to tell the world why this was the wrong approach. Didn’t he know we’d want a camera, or an ability to multitask or how ‘bout a freaking’ keyboard. C’mon!

Its these very comments that lead me to believe Jobs may be drinking the Kool-Aid after all. As Blank’s theories have evolved there has emerged the concept of a minimal viable product. Getting something in the hands of users so you can really begin to understand what they want and need. Note- there was a bunch of promotion from Apple around a new SDK for developers to start building next generation apps that leverage the gestures and form factor of the iPad. I sense they’ll be taking a lot of ques from these developers about what they want to be able to do with the new technologies perfectly packed within the skin of this thing they’re calling the iPad. The device ain’t perfect, buts its enough to get it into the hands of customer and developers so they can begin to better understand and deliver what they really want. You can almost here Jobs breaking through the walls of the Yerba Buena Center saying “Oh Yeahhhh!”.

Which leads to my last point. This launch was really not about the iPad at all. Whether that particular device actually creates a new, large market for a 4th screen is really secondary. This launch was about Apple setting the agenda in personal computing for the next 10 yrs. It was about packaging a new user experience which really comes down to the software’s gesture interface, the SDK and the underlying hardware that powers it all. You can’t tell me that once you’ve gone all in on your iPhone that you want every screen you use to be a touch screen. That you aren’t disappointed when you can’t press, pinch and expand screens that aren’t touch sensitive in the way your iPhone is.

I may never buy an iPad as the use case for it is just not there for me today, but I’m certain that as the form factor morphs and the gesture interfaces find their way into other Apple products that I, and a very large number of others, will never think twice about using a traditional PC again.

(*please note I’m only a few chapters into Blank’s book so I likely butchered may of his principles. If you’re into this stuff, I love you to clarify or expand on this post in the comments)