Defined by what you do vs. defined by what you don’t…….

Let’s welcome the iPad and the Samsung Note to our blog post – two products that have been enormously successful over the years. These are products that the pundits said would fail because they didn’t have a market, products that overcame significant roadblocks (remember the iPhone Antenna gate and the combustible note 7?) and yet today stand tall having defined their niches in the world.

There’s one characteristic that differentiates these two – a characteristic which has importance even outside the domain of product design – more about that later. For now let’s take a peek at this characteristic that so eloquently differentiates the Note and the iPhone:

  • The Note is defined by what it can do. And it can do a lot. It’s a large- sized phone, pull out the stylus and it morphs into a note-taking tablet, attach some stuff (the DeX accessory, a keyboard, a mouse and a TV) and it transforms itself into a computer! Versatility is its middle name – the Note is a fully functional chameleon that can do a bit of everything and satisfy everyone.
  • The iPad on the other hand is best defined by what it will not do. It’s explicitly not a phone – you can put a SIM in it, but you cannot make voice calls. You cannot pair a mouse with it (a keyboard will work though) and turn it into a laptop – that’s disabled too! The iPad is meant to be an interactive device that can be touched (3D touched at that!), pinched and zoomed, dragged and dropped – a mouse falls from that ideal. The iPad is unique and anything that does not fit its personality is discarded.

That’s the insight – two successful products with very contrasting approaches. Perhaps, either end is fine, we just should avoid getting caught in the middle.

The “skill” scenario in the IT industry is similar. You have “full stack” professionals on the one-hand who are known for their versatility. They can work on everything from databases to UI, they understand architecture, coding, quality and ops. Their success comes because they can roll up their sleeves and work on anything, anywhere – and this all-rounded-ness makes them coveted.

On the other end of the spectrum are the 10X professionals. Think of someone like Jony Ive – his only job is to design iconic Apple products. Design is his forte – and he does this at least 10 times better than everyone else. These are specialists – the Messi of the IT world. They don’t need to be all-rounders, their sheer depth and impact puts them on a pedestal.

Again, note that both ends of the spectrum are highly regarded – its the ones that are in the middle that struggle.

Work rules appear to follow a similar story. @claychristensen (the poster boy of innovation) in his “How will you measure your life” recounts how Sabbath is a day he dedicates to God – work has no place in it – ever. His contribution to his professional goals on other days was extraordinary – perhaps a reason why his bosses respected his “non-negotiable” weekend rule. Chalk one up for being defined by “what you will not do”. Contrast that with Amazon’s @JeffBezos who famously says “you can work long, hard or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three”.

From product design to skills to work style – while we will each bring a range of behaviours to our lives – I believe we can choose to be known for one of these options – what we choose to do (versatility) vs what we don’t (specialisation).

Would you agree? And which one are you?