Apple, Failure, and Perfect Cookies

Posted on May 4, 2012

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!