Apple, Failure, and Perfect Cookies

It’s painful, hard, and often time-consuming to restart when you’re already done, but you can’t argue with the results. Both Apple and Nintendo create some of the best, most inspired design out there.
Lukas Mathis, in Chabudai Gaeshi

When people ask me what Apple’s dev process has that’s different to other places, I always gravitate towards this, even though it sometimes seems ludicrous.

In my time working there, I must personally have seen years-worth, probably decades-worth (and, from afar perhaps even centuries-worth) of work simply discarded because it turned out not to be ‘right’ or ‘good’. This was done with very little animosity towards the people who did the work. There was a distinct difference between working on something that turned out bad and had to be discarded (fine - admirable, even) and doing bad work (bad).

Of course, no-one should set out to fail, that would clearly be ridiculous. Apple doesn’t either, but it does accept that things don’t always turn out as great as they were initially imagined; that’s just how a creative process works.

I think this highlights two things that many other organisations would do well to learn. First, what you have is what it is, it’s not the effort that was put into it. If it’s not worth keeping, it’s not worth keeping. Second, if you want the best results, you need to give good people the room to start over without feeling like they are failing.

My wife has a reputation for baking excellent cookies. When she takes them to friends, she gets congratulated on the even size, roundness and texture of them. When asked how she does it, the reply is always the same - “there’s a selection step you didn’t see”. That step is us eating all the outliers at home*. Strangely, knowing this doesn’t take away from the fact that the cookies now at the friend’s house are perfect. So it is with Apple and its cookies.

*My favourite step!


4 Comments

I would like to see some of those discarded Apple cookies.


…tten by Kyle Baxter. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. Apple, Failure, and Perfect Cookies May 10th, 2012 James Montgomerie: I think this highlights two things that many other organisations would do well to learn. First, wh…


Have you noticed a common attitude or way of thinking in the people who produce more success ?


@Laurent: That’s an interesting question, and it took me some time to formulate my response.

If I were to answer your question straight, I’d say that they’re all good at what they do, and they all care about producing great stuff. They care so much about producing great stuff that they want to be able to discard the things that don’t turn out great. This quickly falls down though; if they’re discarding things they’re not "producing more success", right?

So, my answer is, after consideration, that I don’t think it’s a valid question to ask. When I said there "was a distinct difference between working on something that turned out bad and had to be discarded (fine - admirable, even) and doing bad work (bad)", I really meant it. The people who did good work on discarded projects or features were still "producing success" for the company. I realise that "doing bad work" is rather a hard thing to define, but I think it’s perhaps just one of those unfortunately subjective know-it-when-you-see-it things that us scientists hate to find that life is actually full of.


Selection is something photographers do all the time. It’s amazing how few people realize how often this is going on.

BTW, I also make excellent cookies.


…and our experience continues to teach us that the best tools are dedicated. 5. James Montgomerie in Apple, failure, and perfect cookies: What you have is what it is, it’s not the effort that was put into it. If it’s not w…