Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was one of the most important and influential businessmen of our time, or indeed any time. He died last week aged just 56.
Many, many words have been written about him, his approach and his legacy in recent days. In short, he revolutionised personal computing, pioneering the computer mouse. He revolutionised animated film-making through the genius of Pixar, and he revolutionised the way in which we acquire, store and listen to music through iTunes and generations of iPods and iPhones.
All of this came from a simple philosophy that was brilliantly encapsulated in one of my all-time favourite ad campaigns: Think Different, which was at least partly born as a deliberate positioning against the monolithic IBM and their ‘Think’ advertising of the early 1980s.
If you can tell a lot about a man or a brand by the company he keeps, look at the masters who allowed themselves to be associated with Apple.
Apple have many detractors, who claim their products are merely style over substance, late to market, or unsuccessfully copy the features of more technically specified rivals. They are mocked for the slavish devotion of their many, many fans. But all that smacks of trying to find some chink in Apple’s generally unblemished armour. Not only do Apple products work, they look and feel f***ing amazing. They work beautifully, intuitively. They feel liks a human being has designed them for other human beings to use.
In 2009 the satirical eyes of The Onion focused on Apple, and released a tremendous parody of a new Apple launch, a new MacBook Wheel, whose leading feature was a computer without a keyboard. There are some terrifically barbed jokes in here about Apple’s notoriously flaky battery life, but compare those very specific jibes against this astonishing take-down of a Sony product launch (CAUTION: contains strong language throughout – NSFW or children!).
Noone ever talked about buying their 19th Dell or IBM or MS product. But Apple users buy across the range, despite the fact the products’ functions often overlap. On the other hand, their evangelism can be wearing…
…but then Apple products truly are things of beauty. Tactile, smooth, just lovely. And again judging a brand by its satire, would you rather be Apple, or Microsoft…?
Many years ago I read Business Beyond The Box by John O’Keeffe, which made a big impression on me. He railed against the incremental thinking of most of corporate America (of which he had been a part at Procter & Gamble), which took the status quo as its starting point. He argued for triangular thinking, which is in fact just a construct to pull his three key themes together…
- Picture a step-change(be dissatisfied with the status quo)
- Build know-how
- Be creative
As an example, he appealed to the amateur golfing audience likely to be avid readers of his work. In incremental America they might set themselves the goal of improving their golf game from shooting 95 to 90. That’s a healthy enough improvement, for which he suggested they might buy a new & better driver, maybe have a lesson with the club pro and try to play more often, at least twice a week.
But if they thought more powerfully, they might set a much sterner goal, to improve their game from 95 to 85, or even 80 – a true and significant step-change. This would require some very different strategies and altogether different resources. Instead of playing more and buying new clubs, they would need to revisit their entire technique. They should enlist an expert for an intensive series of lessons, go to the driving range to practise their new swing, and so on.
It’s that kind of thinking that developed the iPod, the iPhone and the sorts of films that Pixar so brilliantly produces, and is often a long way from what risk-averse companies practise. There are bold words and ambitions, but at the end of the day they are often apparently in thrall to the short-term power of shareholders, and to the next quarterly figures.
But, as I have written before, Martin Luther King had a dream – he didn’t have a critical path schedule or a revised quarterly forecast…
And that’s why I love what Apple stands for. It dares to be different, it celebrates it. And it’s properly human. Pixar films have more emotional connections in one scene than the output of entire studios. Apple aspires to be better, to do better. More than that, they seem to want to make our lives more interesting, and perhaps even a bit easier. And for that, we should all be glad that Steve Jobs succeeded.