Whether serving as Canva’s chief evangelist, executive fellow of the Haas School of Business of UC Berkeley, or best-selling author of thirteen industry-changing books on innovation and social media (including The Art of the Start 2.0 and Enchantment), Guy Kawasaki invariably focuses on one thing: how to make people’s lives better. We caught up with the Mercedes-Benz brand ambassador after his talk at the house of smart to discuss technology and well-being, artificial intelligence, and the art of change.
Mr. Kawasaki, after working at Apple, writing bestsellers, and evangelizing Canva, what major question are you tackling right now?
Guy Kawasaki: My writing, speaking, advising, and investing all focus on one major question: How can I empower people? That’s what I do. That’s what I want to be remembered for.
We are in Austin at the house of smart. In mid-March, during SXSW, innovators and creatives are flocking to the Texan capital for the world’s biggest digital conference. Your speech at the house of smart dealt with the art of innovation and change. Could you highlight the key points for us?
Guy Kawasaki: First, start of innovation is the desire to make meaning – that is, to improve people’s lives. Second, you should describe what you do in two or three words. I call this a mantra. Third, you should ensure that you’re doing something significant – “denting the universe,” as Steve Jobs said. Finally, you have to ship. Real innovators ship, they don’t just envision. If you keep working and working towards perfection and never ship, you’ve lost.
You started out at Apple in the early days of the company, and you have watched a great number of brands, products, and services rise and fall. What are the qualities of a great product?
Guy Kawasaki: Great products are DICEE. D stands for deep. It means that your product has anticipated the needs of customers as they come up the power curve. I stands for intelligence. It means that you understand the need for your product. The trunk delivery service to smart cars is a great example of an intelligent product. Who hasn’t come home to a delivery notice from DHL and wished that they didn’t have to wait at home the next day or drive to the DHL facility to get the package. C stands for complete. It means that you’re not just selling a physical gizmo but also all the other things that make a product outstanding such as service, support, infrastructure, and ecosystem. E stands for empowering. It means that great products make you better. They don’t fight you. They become part of you. The second E stands for elegant. It means that someone cared about the industrial and human interface design.
What is the most important lesson you learned at Apple?
Guy Kawasaki: The most important thing that I learned at Apple is that your existing customers cannot necessarily tell you how to create a revolutionary product. They can tell you how to enhance an existing product but not how to jump to the next curve and create a new product that obsoletes the existing one.
How did you learn that?
Guy Kawasaki: I saw that Apple’s customers in the 1980s were asking for a better, faster, and cheaper Apple II. No one asked for an incompatible new operating system with no software that was more expensive than an Apple II. And yet that’s what we created, and the rest is history.
One of your books is called Rules for Revolutionaries. What’s more important: to follow the rules or to break the rules?
Guy Kawasaki: The optimal strategy is not about breaking or obeying rules. The optimal response is to do the right thing the right way – thereby making people’s lives better. In the process of making people’s lives better, you may break rules or you may not break any rules. That doesn’t really matter. The salient question is: Did you make people’s lives better?
On the one hand, you write about business; on the other, you also explore more human-centric topics like enchantment. Would you say that technology and the human factor are in competition with each other?
Guy Kawasaki: I don’t see it that way. Technology has increased the human factor for me because I can have friends all over the world via social media, email, webinars, and teleconferencing. There is no way that I could accomplish this without technology.
What’s your take on artificial intelligence?
Guy Kawasaki: I can’t wait for the promise of AI to finally deliver day-to-day usefulness. I’ve been waiting about thirty years! The first place it might appear in this useful way is in autonomous cars. I’m going to be a happy man when my car knows what I want to do, where I want to go to, what I want to listen to or watch.
Our last question: What do you expect from this conference in Austin? What should the outcome be?
Guy Kawasaki: For most people, the outcome of this conference will be greater awareness of new technologies, new products, and new companies. It’s the best conference of the year to reach the real consumers of products. Most tech conferences are echo chambers where the same old billionaires are talking about the same old technologies. SXSW is my favorite conference of the year.