Zooming

October 14th, 2019

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John Sculley, Apple’s CEO from 1983 to 1993, credited much of the company’s success to a process that Steve Jobs used—”zooming.” It’s effective in business. And it’s biblical.

Sculley met Jobs Thanksgiving 1982. Later that year, they began getting together every weekend. Jobs was trying to convince Sculley to become Apple’s CEO. Sculley was the CEO of Pepsi at the time. After meeting for five months, Sculley turned Jobs down.

Jobs wouldn’t take no for an answer. He asked Sculley: “You want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” Sculley joined Apple.

While Sculley was CEO, Apple went from having revenues of $569 million to $8.3 billion. Sculley credited much of this to Job’s idea of “zooming.” Zooming goes two ways—out, then in.

Jobs believed effective companies first have to zoom out. That’s where real disruption takes place, on the edge, where industries collide with other industries. Example: Jobs connected the dots between calligraphy, laser printing and personal computers.

Effective companies then zoom in. Once they see how the dots connect, they simplify the connections with solutions that even non-technical people like me can use. Apple is recognized for this. Zooming out, then in, led to desktop publishing on the Macintosh computer.

But zooming isn’t original with Jobs. He got it from M.I.T.’s Building 20. In 1942, the U.S. military was developing the atomic bomb. The Radiation Laboratory at M.I.T. needed more room. The school built a cheap, 250,000 square foot wooden frame structure. The plan was to tear it down after the war. The influx of students on the G.I. Bill postponed those plans.

After the war, Building 20 was turned into office space for an eclectic collection of disciplines, from poets to scientists. The offices were tiny, so everyone gathered in the center, eating lunch and getting their mail. Industries collided with other industries. Lots of zooming out.

This stirred innovation. In Building 20, Dr. Amar Bose rolled out his new speakers. Noam Chomsky developed his groundbreaking work on language. For decades, Building 20 was widely regarded as one of the most innovative spaces in the world. It wasn’t torn down until 1988.

Steve Jobs designed Apple’s headquarters with Building 20 in mind. The Spaceship (as it’s called) is a massive circle wrapped around a central atrium featuring mailboxes, meeting rooms, coffee bar, gift shop, and cafeteria—all designed to have colleagues bump into other colleagues, industries collide with other industries. All for the purpose of zooming out.

But zooming isn’t original with M.I.T. King Arthur’s Round Table wrapped around a circular board. Merlin, the wizard, along with Dagonet, the court jester, zoomed out. They helped colleagues see how the kingdom ought to be and where it is falling short. Ought-is. Arthur and his Knights zoomed in—what can be done so that the kingdom will be united. Can-will.

But this isn’t original with the Arthurian legend. Ought-is-can-will is the gospel—creation, fall, redemption, consummation. Ought and is come first, zooming out—what life ought to be and is. Can and will then zoom in—what can be done to fix the world and what will come of our work.

This is not a linear story—A, then B, then C, and so on. It’s a circular story, always returning to what we ought to be. As Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian Dominican friar wrote, “God is an infinite sphere.” The spherical shape of Apple’s new headquarters reflects the gospel.

So does neuroscience. It is only in the right hemisphere that we see how the dots connect. Zooming out is right-brained. It is where we start. Neuroscience indicates if we start in the left hemisphere—the half that zooms in—we narrowly focus on how to fix things. We don’t see where real disruption takes place, on the edge. We fail to discover innovative solutions. Both hemispheres are necessary, but sustained innovation starts in the right-brain.

Effective organizations in the future will recognize this. They’ll be ambidextrous, hiring right-brain leaders who help them zoom out, then in. But that’s in the future. For now, most organizations are left-brained. How can you tell? They fail to see negative side effects.

That’s next week’s topic.

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2 Responses to “Zooming”

  1. tony sheng says:

    I love this.

  2. DAVE T says:

    I love this too! And not many outsiders get it right but you did Mike, everything here is known as “Building #”

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