When Steve Jobs was trying to motivate the original Mac development team to meet their looming deadline, he scrawled the words, "Real Artists Ship" on a chalkboard. The concepts they were trying to bring to the masses had been pioneered by the computer scientists at Xerox PARC Labs, some of whom were now working for Apple. Yet Xerox never turned those ideas into a shipping product.
The rest of the Mac development team was made up of people who had bought into Apple's renegade corporate culture. They fancied themselves artists and innovators, eschewing neckties, profit motives, and bottom lines. Jobs' bottom line was right on the money: if you fancy yourself an artist, you need to produce
something. It's not enough to have the insanely great idea; you need to implement it in the form of a shipping product.
I've been thinking about Jobs' aphorism a lot in the past week, as I've been desperately working to finish a new version of The Accordance Bible Lands PhotoGuide. The PhotoGuide is basically a dictionary of Biblical locations, complete with photographs, which you access from within Accordance Bible Software.
Developing the PhotoGuide has been lots of fun, but extremely challenging. Basically, I have to go through thousands of pictures of places I've never been to—in Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Iraq, and Iran—deciding which shots best illustrate each site. Then I write in depth descriptions of each picture, explaining the historical and/or Biblical significance of the places or things being shown. This involves a fair amount of research, and it always seems to take longer than anticipated to finish each site. Add to that the fact that I've had to set the PhotoGuide aside several times this year to work on higher priority projects, and the new PhotoGuide is being released quite a few months after we had first hoped to have it ready.
One of my biggest frustrations with developing the PhotoGuide has been my fear that we would have to ship it before I was really finished adding everything I wanted to add. Caught between the desire to finish and ship a new product that would bring in revenue, and my desire to do it right, I sometimes despaired of ever finishing or ever getting it right.
This December, a new deadline was set, and I've been fairly killing myself to meet it. I failed. When I was supposed to have the master CD ready so that we could ship the PhotoGuide two weeks before Christmas, I still had several important sites left to do and lots of little things to fix. Fortunately, my boss cares about the quality of the product too, and was patient with me as I took another day, and another, and another, until we finally finished the project a week after it was due.
The PhotoGuide CD-ROM will ship about a week before Christmas, which is not a lot of time for customers to discover it's available and decide to buy it. Nevertheless, it WILL ship, and it will ship in a form I can be happy with.
In the end, Jobs is right that real artists ship. But occasionally, shipping dates must slip while the artist puts the finishing touches on his masterpiece.