If Steve Jobs did governmentâ€¦
Adopted child, college drop-out, phoenix businessman, global technology superstar â€“ Steve Jobs is the latest incarnation of the American dream.Â But the interesting thing about Steve Jobs is how he broke many of the rules and succeeded magnificently because of it.
The first rule of business is to focus on the customer. The Jobs difference was to do the reverse â€“ to invent products where the first consumer reaction was â€śwhat is the point?â€ť â€“ which rapidly transformed into a â€ścanâ€™t live withoutâ€ť fan base.Â Of course, it worked because Jobsâ€™ judgement really was better than the collective wisdom of consumers (Dragonâ€™s Den weekly line-up of misconceived products shows that simply not being wanted now is no guarantee of success).
One of the big changes over the last 20 years is the rise of focus group government pioneered in the US – but another successful American export. But that means government which follows rather than leads. The last political leader we have had who regularly acted ahead of where the public were was Mrs Thatcher. As our policy reunion showed, her government acted ahead of public opinion on flagship policies such as privatisation and council house sales â€“ but (by and large) public opinion caught up.
The second Jobs difference was a relentless focus on design and excellence. As we have argued in our policy making work, this is often the missing link in government â€“ where we assume that policy conceptsÂ translate seamlessly into delivery â€“ without putting in the effort to make sure that the policy is deliverable by the people who need to deliver it. That means prototyping, testing and insisting that things work before they are unleashed on a waiting public. It also meant an insistence on excellence with which people who run government feel naturally uncomfortable. Steve Jobs would have undoubtedly been put in the â€śnot a team playerâ€ť box if he had ever been tempted to work in government.
The third Jobs difference was the celebration of the upgrade. Microsoft upgrades always seem to be rather dull changes which remove as much functionality as they add and just move things around for the sake of selling you another package. But Apple upgrades became events to anticipate. In government we have U-turns rather than upgrades. We commit big and early and then find it difficult to change course â€“ and throw brickbats at Ministers who try. What Appleâ€™s success shows is the benefit of releasing a good product â€“ but then continually adapting to make it better. Our System Error report argues that this agile approach should be used for government IT. But maybe policy making would be healthier if we could celebrate policy upgrades rather than talk of policy failures.
One of the many articles today argues that Steve Jobs changed our view of the omniscience of the market â€“ by showing that anÂ individual could change the direction of the market. This ability to change the game is what marks out great political leaders from the political managers. Maybe at the moment we need to be looking for some Jobs like political leaders.
Meanwhile, maybe I need to overcome my personal iPhobia and finally switch my nine year old Nokia for a tribute iPhone to see what all the fuss is about.