"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
This past Sunday, I was reclining on the sofa doing the latest New York Times crossword puzzle on my Apple iPad.
As my mind raced to solve the next clue, I stopped for a moment and took notice of the iPad’s well-thought-out design.
What I saw in front of me was a highly functional and powerful computing machine with very few buttons or moving parts that consisted of an on/off switch at the top, a volume control rocker switch on the side, and a selector button on the bottom face.
The design qualities of most Apple products include being slim and sleek, monochromatic (all my Apple devices all happen to be black), a high-quality look and feel (all metal and glass... with no cheap molded plastic parts) but most of all, all their devices seem to be esthetically pleasing to the eye.
Apple must be doing something right as it is currently the most valuable company in the world (market cap of nearly $400B).
Now back to the crossword puzzle, I head to Google’s home page to search for an obscure reference to help me finish the puzzle.
When the Google home page was fully loaded, I was again taken by the simplicity of the Google home page... it contained a total of 34 words that day (the words change slightly from day to day)... there were no pictures that were loaded (unless you want to consider the Google logo a picture).
Yet, with only 34 words, Google is the number one website in the world with 900M unique visitors each month and boasts a market cap of nearly $300B.
The next clue in my crossword puzzle was a four-letter word... Swedish retailer... IKEA of course!
IKEA is the world’s largest retailer of home products and sells ready to assemble furniture and home accessories. Everything that IKEA sells is easy to make (it has to be... since all of their furniture needs to be assembled by the purchasers), is generally very cost effective, highly functional, and classically stylish.
Sales at IKEA now exceed $30B worldwide and are growing at a rate of 12% each year.
The common thread in the highly successful companies profiled above is their simplistic artistry yet highly functional designs.
I have been a loyal customer of Apple, Google and IKEA for years for exactly these reasons.
I recently had a discussion with my daughter Sarah regarding higher education. She is a recent graduate from college who is still trying to find her suitable place in the workforce.
Although being in the top of her class throughout her educational career, she decided against pursuing a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) related degree. Instead she opted for a liberal arts education, as she believed that college was intended to teach people how to think rather than how to do.
While I was at first somewhat disappointed with her decision (especially when I thought about her prospects for post-graduation employment), I began to look around at the world and have determined that the most valuable people in the future are not necessarily those people who can do... but rather I believe that the world will soon highly reward those individuals who can actually think.
Sarah lamented that so many schools have now abandoned a well-rounded curriculum that includes social and behavioral sciences, art, and humanities for that of strictly a STEM curriculum. She explained that college majors such as art, music, philosophy, foreign language, sociology, and history were on a severe decline at most universities around the country.
She believes that school boards should be considering STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) programs rather than just STEM programs. By adding art to a typical STEM program, schools can help students to develop their innate creativity.
As I thought more and more about her proposal, it began to make more and more sense to me. The goal of most products is to become simplified not overly complicated.
Steve Jobs was a genius because he made very complicated items very simple. He wasn’t an engineer or a scientist... he was an artist...
Bill Gates on the other hand is a computer scientist... when we think of Microsoft, we hardly think of simplicity... rather we think of large complicated programs that need constant patches and upgrades to keep the code working.
Most engineers are technicians not designers (I know this to be true as I’m an engineer)... the job of a typical engineer is to incrementally improve an existing product not re-define the product or usage...
As I illustrated a few weeks ago... people who buy drill bits are NOT really buying drill bits... they are buying holes... and once someone can find a better way to produce holes... the drill bit companies will no longer be...
Kodak made great film... until there was no longer any need for film...
Sony made great Trinitron TVs... until the world switched to HDTV Plasma / LED screens...
IBM made great typewriters... until the world changed to word processors and laser printers...
The only hope for survival for these companies and the thousands of companies like them is to create new products and services... and to do that... a company needs thinkers... creatives... and people with new and fresh ideas...
I believe that we need to be considering expanding areas that foster creativity and artistic expression not phasing them out in lieu of strict diet of scientific method...
Great new ideas come from giant leaps in thought not a steady stream of incrementally better products. If this wasn’t the case we’d still be continuing to make better horse drawn carriages... better telegraphs... better quill pens...
Art gives us simplicity... creativity gives us new ideas... critical thought allows us to understand the human experience...
Eliminating these things in lieu of science and technology doesn’t necessarily make us a better society... at least not in the long run...
Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where our goal is always to foster the creative spirit in all of us...
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