BBD CEO Summit – Keith Yamashita

Keith Yamashita from XYPartners.

Seeing defects. CEO as designer.

Yamashita San (I’ll refer to him as Keith from now on) worked for Steve Jobs at Next Computers as his writer when he was 26. His job was apparently to extract what was in Steve’s mind and get it on paper – an impossible undertaking.

Keith was tailing Steve Jobs on day, off to a meeting of engineers designing Next. Steve Jobs entered the room as he normally did – by kind of falling in. The group was looking at the Next motherboard, and after a while Steve’s comment was “why is the board so asymmetrical”, after which he walked out of the room. What happened next was that the hardware and software people started talking about what the end users would do. Steve returned and said we (simply) can’t have defects in the product’s hardware or software. He bought back that culture of excellence and perfection to Apple on his return.

Steve had an extraordinary ability to see defects, and was all about building cuture that would not tolerate them, whether in a product or in the environment around them.

More recently Keith consulted to Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg (at 15 million users on Facebook) characterizing him as an extraordinary contrarian. He rejected existing ideas from other companies, and most advice Keith gave was rejected. Mark apparently has a gift for seeing human experience, the connections between people, and designs connections between them.

MOMA installed cameras to watch their art, and observed to their initial dismay that patrons enjoyed touching the art. After a while they realized that this was an opportunity rather than an issue, and took it as a challenge to fulfill.

Apparently CEOs make the worlds best designers. They deal with ambiguity, make decisions in things that may not be seen as logical at the times.

Keith defines design as a method of imagining something that does not yet exist, arranging elements to make it reality, embracing constraint, challenging status quo and summoning courage. His company SYPartners works with CEOs on helping them become more design led.

Keith raises four lessons from SYPartners work:

1: a CEO designs only as well as a CEO is willing to see

We all use different lenses to observe situations, and need to use many of them constantly looking internally and externally to see beyond the obvious.

2: a CEOs job is to define the corporate character of the institution

He uses he nutcracker suite as an example of music that is holiday, gets you engaged music. (I have to say that Tchakpvskiy’s music invariably makes me feel angry, and it seems he was an angry government clerk who left his job, worked on music for 30 years before releasing that piece. I still hear the anger, even if nobody else does.)

(I think a better example is one he mentioned earlier – Tom Watson setting the standard that continues over 100 years later.)

Keith played the Bond theme music and sounds as something that sets the a standard which endures, and that the details of that are what makes it work.

He raised the US founders belief in life, liberty and happiness, and how that bonds the nation together – driving the notion of fronterism, new ways and travel to space. (sadly this is less and less evident, as travel through any US airport will inform.)

Institutions have character, and like great people that are defined by it.

3: to help make that character real, a CEO must get it right in every detail

Keith introduced a framework of concentric circles  – outer circle first.

A company must:

  • look like what the company is about. Logos, clothing.
  • sound like what the company is about. Websites, speeches.
  • think like what the company is about. How they work.
  • perform like a company is about. How they deliver.

(This is all about consistency, and unsaid is it all rolls from or is encapsulated in the mission, vision and our purpose).

Best institutions are the ones that allow you to perform at your best. Cost cutting is done, it’s about growing ability of staff to create.

4: there are (at least) twenty design jobs a CEO must do brilliantly to be a great CEO.

Keith produced a booklet on these and led an interactive session on some of them.

CEO as designer – from the book

seeing imperfection. Steve jobs example as above.

seeing icons: Shultz at Starbucks and how when he rejoined to do a turnaround they starts with senior leadership and mission and values. Amusingly to me while product quality is a value, the taste of the coffee and healthiness of the products are not. Those still remain to me the fundamental issue with Starbucks.

seeing evolution: Meg Whitman example from eBay – where not trusting each other was seen as the biggest issue at one leadership session internally.

seeing human experience. Zuckerberg as a great judge of human interactions.

Seeing seismic shifts. IBM example, but not the switch to services, but the new CEO being collaborative internally and externally. Unsure on this example being applicable to seeing seismeic shifts. The IBM switch to services was far better eidence of prescience.

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