Jim Yurchenco is the design engineer behind everything from the first Apple mouse to the Palm V to the Plié Wand from Julep. He just retired from a 40-year career at IDEO creating products which brightened the lives of millions.
Jim’s work was also about helping everyone around him excel. I was fortunate to have Jim as a mentor, coach, and project leader at IDEO. I did some of the best work of my life working with him. And the “how” was great, too: we never pulled all-nighters, but we always hit our deadlines, routinely achieving extremely innovative outcomes.
How to do the best work of your life? Well, here is Jim’s secret:
“Don’t accept done for good. And don’t accept good for excellent.”
Jim’s approach to excellence is anything but passive. It is rooted in action, passionately and optimistically pursued. He’s never one to sit back and procrastinate, waiting for inspiration and perfection to magically appear. He is constantly thinking, building, pushing, failing, learning—always striving to figure out a way to make things better. All of this coupled with an urgency to make decisions quickly and be productive, but with the sage perspective to step back and let things percolate when need be. In Jim’s world, excellence is both something you pursue, and something that comes to the prepared.
One morning in the late 90’s, while noodling on ways to cool the chips in the Intel Pentium II cartridge we were designing, Jim decided that our pursuit of excellence demanded access to a temperature-controlled, variable-speed wind tunnel. Today. Of course, we didn’t have one. But by that evening, after scavenging all of Silicon Valley for parts and applying some scrappy ingenuity, we had a twenty-foot long wind tunnel up and running in an unoccupied office we found at IDEO (whose owner was mildly surprised when she returned from her business trip). And then we used that wind tunnel to create a breakthrough design solution.
When you’re committed to excellence—and when everyone you work with knows it—failure becomes a mere bump in the road along the way to success. Once you stop accepting good for excellent, you can transcend limitations that would stop a normal team. Scarcity becomes abundance, hurdles becomes ladders, and you start doing the best work of your life.
That’s how Jim did it. And you can too: commit to excellence, believe there’s always a better solution, and make it all happen with optimism.
You can hear more of Jim’s wisdom in this wonderful video: