“All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that’s what I had.” Steve Jobs

What standards are you working to?

My father liked his sayings, and one of the most oft spoken was the proverb “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”

But just what is a job done well?

If you show a grandparent your PHD thesis, they’ll say it’s a job done well. But unless they are very well read in nuclear physics (or whatever your thesis), you won’t give much credence to their opinion. Their standards in nuclear physics have not been calibrated, and so anything looks impressive to them.

Calibrating your standards

I work a lot with designers. Some are amazing, and others are very frustrating.

My favorite designers trawl the web, attend gallery openings, and expose themselves to a huge variety of creative outputs. This gives them inspiration, but it also helps them get perspective on where their own level is at. It means that when they think something is good, it probably is.

It’s the same for marketers and managers and all sorts of creatives – the good ones like to know where they fit.

Benchmarking is the main form of calibrating, but the really good standard bearers calibrate beyond their immediate competition.

A big part of Steve Jobs’ success seems to be that he has well calibrated standards across most of the design spectrum. He basically has a great feel for what good user experience is, and knows when something is where it ‘should be’. For Steve, he can even apply this to products that have never existed before.

Applying your standards

“I’m as proud of the products that we have not done as the ones we have done.” Steve Jobs

Even though the iPad started design before the iPhone, the technology required for a great experience failed to reach Steve’s standards until after the iPhone had refined and improved the tech. He did not release the iPad until it met his standards.

I’ve worked with designers that are incapable of applying their own standards. They can produce work, but they cannot objectively judge it. I’ve also worked with designers that have very strong personal standards, but are happy to turn them off come work time.

Both of these groups just churn stuff out until the boss gives the OK. I am 99% sure that this is not the path to happiness.

If you have a switched on boss, you might be able to defer judgment to him or her. But if you are the boss, your job is essentially to set the standards. What level should your company be aiming for? What level of resourcing is needed to achieve this? How do you know that’s a sensible level?

Give it some thought, calibrate that thought, and move a little closer to being Steve :)