Ap­ple opin­ion

Jonathan Ive shows the prob­lem with pro­mo­tion: it takes you away from the things you love

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Jonathan Ive’s pro­mo­tion to Chief De­sign Of­fi­cer has got Ap­ple­ol­o­gists in a tizzy. Is the newly cre­ated po­si­tion the be­gin­ning of the end of Ive’s time at Ap­ple, or has he be­come the spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Steve Jobs, the new keeper of the Ap­ple flame? Will he move to Eng­land and try to do ev­ery­thing via iCloud? Is he go­ing to give up on de­sign­ing things and swan about in gold-plated Bent­leys with his de­signer pals, lis­ten­ing to Pit­bull and quaffing Cour­voisier? Me, I think Ive wants to be a fire­man again. Imag­ine. You’ve been fas­ci­nated by fire your whole life. You un­der­stand its power, its ter­ri­ble beauty. You know its se­crets, can hear its beats, can pre­dict its move­ments in a way no other fire­fighter can. And be­cause of this, be­cause of this tal­ent, peo­ple re­spect you. And be­cause of that re­spect, they pro­mote you. You be­come crew leader, then watch man­ager. Man­ager of the area, the group, the brigade. You’re still a fire­fighter, but the fires you fight now are metaphor­i­cal.

It hap­pens in all in­dus­tries. Jour­nal­ism. In­dus­trial de­sign. Teach­ing. Peo­ple with tal­ent are pushed up­stairs, their time in­creas­ingly packed with meet­ings and man­age­ment. It’s im­por­tant, of course, but it isn’t what they dreamed of do­ing, what they stud­ied and sac­ri­ficed for. What they love. I won­der if that hap­pened to Ive. We know de­sign runs through his bones like the word Black­pool through a stick of rock. He no­tices ev­ery­thing, cares about the small­est de­tail, gets irate about things most of us wouldn’t even no­tice. But the more you have to over­see, the less time you can spend on the lit­tle things.

As his port­fo­lio ex­panded to take in not just com­put­ers but mo­bile, not just hard­ware but soft­ware, not just core prod­ucts but wear­ables and Ap­ple Stores and Cam­pus 2 and maybe even cars, was Ive stretched too thin? Was he spend­ing too much of his time be­ing a man­ager in­stead of be­ing a ma­gi­cian?

Tim Cook isn’t telling and Ive is keep­ing char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quiet, but Ap­ple might just have dodged a bullet. As Steve Jobs once said to Cook, “I’ve never found in my whole life that you could con­vince some­one who doesn’t want to work hard to work hard.”

Ive doesn’t need to work, and he cer­tainly doesn’t need the money, but I think Ap­ple needs him – and it needs him on top form, not bored and go­ing through the mo­tions. By jet­ti­son­ing the man­age­ment to con­cen­trate on the magic, Ive gets to be a fire­man again. Some peo­ple turn out to be great man­agers. Gary Mar­shall isn’t one of them. “It’s not that I’m not cre­ative,” he says. “I’m just crap.”

By jet­ti­son­ing the man­age­ment to con­cen­trate on the magic, Ive gets to be a fire­man again

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