Sunday, December 4, 2011

Steve Jobs and My Credit Card Woes

I think it’s time for a few smaller blog posts. I can’t be hamstrung by trying to make every one better than the last. Even at the risk of triviality. But after all, some of my favorite writers – Dave Barry, say – dwell in that region and thrive.

So, I just read Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, which is well worth reading, sports fans. Great story and Isaacson is in a class with David McCullough and Michael Lewis and Alan Furst– you can’t go wrong reading what they write. Steve’s wife, Laurene Powell, said he’s a great man, but great men are not great at everything. So personal relations and being nice to others weren’t his strengths.

But he was frank. There were a lot of gadgets, devices, architecture, a lot of things that he pronounced as shit. The whole music industry didn’t get it as their business went kerplunk. It took Itunes to get it right and save them, and it was an outside agency that did it, not they themselves. Sony had everything together to do an Ipod and they didn’t do it – why? Because they were divided into divisions and the divisions didn’t and couldn’t work together. So an outsider, Jobs, did it.

BTW, this invention is an example of the incorrectness of the description of innovation as “find a need and fill it.” Instead, he visited Toshiba, I think it was, and they said, we invented this 1.8 inch hard drive and we can’t figure out what to do with it. Jobs thought, I can do something with this, and brought together technology, his love of music, and his identification with the general consumer to think, Ipod. The technology advanced and he found the use for it. This is generally what happens – like the telephone, recording devices, the computer itself.

Anyway, let me be inspired by Jobs’ ready indictment of the ignorance of others. About three years ago I made a mid-year’s resolution. I was leaving my credit card behind at too many restaurants, and in my car I was pulling out of my lane without looking too often (all the time, actually). So my resolution was to stop forgetting my credit card, and to look before I pulled out.

Perspective: whenever there is improvement to be made, there are two ways to do it, personal improvement or systematic re-engineering. When I want to make an improvement at Bayside, that’s the choice I have – ask people to try to remember, or build it into the system. Sometimes one strategy is appropriate, sometimes the other. In the case of my credit care forgetfulness woes and my driving woes, since I’m just an individual, only the individual strategy is open to me – be aware, remind myself at the table and at the wheel, take the card and look first.

Jobs was in the position that he could look at a device, how much a customer needed to remember to use it, and say, This is ridiculous, and make a better, more intuitive device. In the Apple stores he realized how inefficient it was for a customer (the customer’s view!) to have to line up to pay for a purchase. Reminds me of the old Soviet stores where you lined up to look at something, lined up again to get the item, and lined up again to pay for it. So Jobs had the employees have those little devices that paid for the item right on the floor – just as in Europe as they do in restaurants.

But what do they do in restaurants here at home? Here, they take your card away, bring it back, and then they HIDE THE CARD INSIDE THE CUSTOMER’S RECEIPT! How many of us want that receipt, for God’s sake? The way they do it now, I have to prompt myself to take the hidden card out and put it in my wallet. It’s just not going to work all the time, but this is the way they keep doing it. Ridiculous. Where is Steve Jobs when I need him?

So, I’m here in Hawaii and the other night I left my card behind again – got it later, but what a pain. This is a stupid system and they’re all doing the same damn thing, hiding the card! At least I can rant and recognize that this is what Jobs was a specialist at, ranting about the idiocy of others. I’m in good company.

Oh, and one more thing – in my new car, an Infinity, there is a little light by the door that lights up when there is a car in my blind spot. All I have to do is remember to look at it. What they need is a bell that goes off when my wheels start to turn and the light is lit.

I read the Steve Jobs book, I understand the power of being right – No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Budd Shenkin

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