Last night I had the distinct pleasure of finishing reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs. His book was very interesting and particularly enlightening about the strengths and weakness of an enigmatic figure that help defined not only the personal computing industry, but helped redefine mobile phones (iPhone), portable music players (iPods), tablet computing (iPad), and network storage (iCloud). Additionally, his introduction of the iTunes store helped save the music industry when piracy was running rampant. While few leaders -- much less emergency managers -- could have the vision and the dedication to develop technology systems that were this impactful, there are numerous lessons emergency managers can learn from Steve Jobs.
First and foremost, Steve Jobs was a designer. He sought out ways to strip products down to their core functions to streamline the process and make it easier on the end user. Unlike most technological operations that start with the engineering and technological capabilities, Steve Jobs often pushed for the design to be set first with the engineering to be set around it. This is a revolutionary concept to most emergency managers who focus on the system and structure necessary before considering how it is engaged by citizens and various community constituencies. What happened if we considered the needs and input of citizens before we pushed for new systems or plans? Ultimately if our grandiose system doesn't work for disaster survivors, it doesn't work at all.
Steve Jobs was also notorious for implementing a "reality distortion field" where he simply ignored or disregarded the things he was not comfort with or was not ready to deal with (including his own health issues). Because we are busy and often over worked, emergency managers are very good at this skill. We routinely toss aside issues (ex: social media) and community expectations that don't fit well with current systems, best practices, or our own sense of the world. The problem with this is that we aren't Steve Jobs. Most of us will lack the personality, drive, and "lone genius" mentality that will allow us to implement a "reality distortion field" without alienating our staff, volunteers, and community.
OPEN VS. CLOSED
Isaacson also spends a significant amount of time discussing the dichotomy of an open or closed system. Jobs pushed for a closed system of fully integrated parts that created a seamless structure for the end user to be able to use iPods, iPhones, iPads, and other technology devices in an interchangeable fashion. This was strongly contrasted with the more open and shared systems at Microsoft and Google. While Jobs vision was ultimately very successful at Apple, he was unable to identify another organization who had shared similar success with such a closed system. In many ways this is important to emergency managers. We often try to establish heavily controlled systems to engage in emergencies and disasters; however, there is a growing push for more open engagement through virtual volunteers, crowdsourcing, and various other emerging technologies. Obviously closed systems can work, but only when each step is managed and controlled, which is extremely difficult to establish within governmental organizations.