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