What I Learned About Creativity from General Magic
Between 1976 and 1989, Apple Computer Inc. had successfully designed, marketed, and launched three predecessors of what we now refer to as our desktop and/or laptop computer.
In that 13-year timeframe, Steve Jobs had already risen to the top of the computer industry mountain…and been thrown off. Jobs, one of the original founding team members of Apple was replaced by John Sculley III in 1989.
One day in 1989, Marc Porat a key designer on the Macintosh Project approached Sculley with a red notebook of ideas. Very creative ideas.
In that office setting, in 1989, Porat presented this idea to Sculley;
A tiny computer, a phone, a very personal object…it must be beautiful. It must offer the kind of personal satisfaction a fine piece of jewelry brings. It will have a perceived value…even when not in use. Once you use it, you will not be able to live without it! Marc Porat to John Sculley about a new idea!
Porat then produced a crude but effective drawing of the device that you and I and almost every soul on this planet now has! The cell phone!
Running With the Idea
Sculley was so impressed with these new and different ideas that he decided then and there Porat should run with it, develop it, and sell it under the Apple name.
Porat agreed but he also pointed out to Sculley the importance of having a team of creatives with everything Apple at its disposal and thus General Magic was born as one of the first startups in Silicon Valley!
What followed was the most beautiful failure of all time.
General Magic…The Early Years
Porat brought with him from the Apple stable Andy Hertzfeld and Bill Atkinson then along with Apple holding a small stake in the company and Sculley on its board of directors General Magic began building a team of the greatest creative minds at the time.
For the next 5 years, General Magic was the place to work and work was far from how these employees viewed themselves within the General Magic picture. They were creating the hardware, software, operating systems, and devices that would eventually be what it is today.
But…and you knew there had to be a but, but it was an all-uphill battle, to say the least.
For four years Porat, Hertzfeld, and Atkinson were faced with insurmountable odds.
Think about this for a moment. They had the idea of a device that could and would be ‘mobile.’ They also had this idea at a time when we were still in the analog age and the internet was still a good 5 to 8 years out!
If you never watch another documentary in your life, at least watch General Magic.
Satisfying the Investors and Delivering on a Promise!
Faced with adversity, General Magic did release its first device but only after investors like Sony, and Motorola began to apply pressure for results.
In 1994 Motorola introduced the Envoy and Sony introduced the Magic Link. This was the General Magic 1st, Gen PDA. A big, bulky, archaic, piece of hardware that had crude graphics was incredibly slow, and oh yeah…it had to be plugged into a phone line.
Sales were pathetic. Nobody wanted an $800 electronic personal assistant. WTF does it do anyway?
Hard to operate, hard to carry from place to place, and totally useless in the outdoors(no random phone lines scattered throughout the city you lived in to plug into and the screen would go totally blackout when outdoors.
More pressure from investors in the following years and General Magic was proving to be anything but magic! In 1998 the process to liquidate the company was put into motion…General Magic had failed.
You can’t blame any one specific failure within this company that eventually led to its demise.
It was a simple matter of not having the right infrastructure to support these devices. The ‘apple’ cart had been placed far, far ahead of the horse!
One of the best ways to describe what happened to General Magic is this. If you started tomorrow building your own house, would you schedule the roofers on day one?
Roofing felt, shingles, and support trusses can’t be installed without a proper foundation!
The walls that support the roof can’t be built until the concrete foundation is solid, ready, and stable…free of any defects!
I am SOOO guilty of the same thing. In this age of devices, apps, SaaS providers, and those mighty influencers it is hard to get a handle on the specific thing that I need to do to get my ideas off the ground.
Digital marketing experts are around every corner, everybody has a ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme they are selling for $99 each, and the affiliate marketers? JEEZ-US!
If I learned anything from the General Magic story it was this;
Being creative will eventually pay off…if you wait until the foundation is ready!
I have ideas that I hope will one day put ME on the map. I have tried different things in different ways trying to stand out from the crowd but today that crowd is pretty big, and I am not getting any younger!
Do I want to be rich? No. I have seen plenty of rich people up close and they are to me, the most miserable sons of bitches on the planet!
But…and there had to be a but, but if I could do one thing to make an impact on people as well as the business world…that to me would be…GENERAL MAGIC!