Tuesday, August 31, 2010

CityWatchLA - If Apple Computer’s Steve Jobs Ran City Hall, What Would He Do?

CityWatch, Aug 31, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 69

Councilmembers Garcetti and Krekorian have both utilized iPhone Apps as tools for connecting their constituents with City Hall, earning accolades for their innovation and vision. This small step begs the question, what would happen if LA simply rebooted City Hall, embracing the way of the iPhone’s creator … Apple Computers, Inc … and installing the latest iGovernment Operating System? More significantly, what would happen if Los Angeles embraced the ideals and commitments of Apple?

1) LA would have a long-term vision in place. Progress would be measured based on the development and implementation of stepping stones that are all part of building the future into LA's platform.

LA's current vision, if it can be called a vision, consists of reacting to a long series of crises with short term fixes that merely stave off the inevitable and allow City Hall to engage in prolonged triage.

Apple, by comparison, went from a 1997 low that saw Fortune Magazine label it "Silicon Valley's paragon of dysfunctional management" to its recent high where it became the largest company in the tech universe, passing Microsoft in market capitalization. Apple CEO Steve Jobs did it by focusing on the Apple Core and challenging his team to a high standard. "Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected."

2) LA would have a plan for moving forward. Performance would be evaluated based on the implementation of progressive solutions that build on prior successful innovations.

LA's current plan is reactive and compartmentalized to the point of absurdity. City Departments operate independently and redundantly, competing internally for resources, and operating out of a commitment to self-preservation.

Apple, in contrast, is led by a CEO who is focused on the user experience and on keeping the company on track. Jobs defines his role, saying "The people who are doing the work are the moving force behind the Macintosh. My job is to create a space for them, to clear out the rest of the organization and keep it at bay."

This focus has led to the release of a series of platforms (Mac OS X, iPod, iPhone OS, iTunes, retail, App Store, etc) that, in hindsight, demonstrate a vision and a plan for delivering products that exceed the customers’ expectations, setting industry standards along the way, and building on prior successes to fuel the next innovation.

3) LA would embrace simplicity. City Hall redundancies would be eliminated and LA's CEO would focus on the simple delivery of prioritized city services and the satisfaction of the simple common goals of the people of Los Angeles.

LA's current bureaucratic maze defies navigation and requires the assistance of gatekeepers, handlers, fixers, navigators, consultants and facilitators. As for the simple folks of LA who attempt to reach out to City Hall, literally every door leads to the Department of "No!"

Apple, on the other hand, sets a standard for simplicity and then again for exceeding demands. Mac faithful have grumbled over the years as features and operating systems have disappeared. But the loss of the floppy disk, the threat to the optical drive, and the anticipated demise of the mouse are all quickly forgotten because of the simple brilliance of the replacement.

Jobs explains his commitment to innovation by quoting Henry Ford who said "If I'd have asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, "A faster horse!'"

Apple's CEO sees his role as a filter. Jobs keeps his finger on the DELETE key but when he says "Yes!" he means it and it resonates throughout the company, transforming the market and eventually the industry. He starts with the customer's experience as the foundation, using their requests as the inspiration for exceeding their imagination and vision.

Jobs explains "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." He concludes by explaining his position, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

4) LA would have Genius Bars at City Hall and in every Council District! City Hall would move beyond the basic commitments of Public Safety, Public Health, Public Works, Public Education, Public Service and Public Benefit, embracing Public Trust as the glue that holds LA together as a Great City.

LA's current Operating System seems to be something that happens in spite of the people, not because of the people. That needs to change.

Ten years ago, Apple implemented a retail strategy that set out to imitate the customer service standard found at a hotel concierge desk. This led to the creation of the Genius Bar, something referred to as the "heart and soul" of every Apple Store.

Apple Geniuses will look at Apple products for free, regardless of where they were purchased, operating with authority to waive any repair fees that might apply, all in a commitment to forging a relationship that transcends the hardware/software issue at hand.

Sydney is a city of five million people and they have a concierge on the first floor of City Hall. I think Los Angeles could go one better and staff City Hall with a Genius Bar, staffed with people who are committed to creating a City that Works!

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net. Disclosure: Box is also a candidate for 4th District Councilman.)


Anonymous said...

I've never owned an Apple product, and most likely never will. The closest I've come is building an Apple II clone back in the pre-windows 3.0 period. They may have built the computer for the rest of us but their business practices are questionable. I shudder to think what could happen to our government-by-the-people principles if Jobs was given free reign.

Anonymous said...


On the topic of using technology to keep a community informed, have you heard of Nixle? I meant to ask you all at the CalTrans meeting, which was very informative BTW, but got busy talking to Glenn Bailey. It seems like it could be a good tool for navigating LA traffic. Here is an article I did about it for WeHo Patch: http://westhollywood.patch.com/articles/west-hollywood-sheriffs-join-nixle-alert-system

Julie Walmsley