• Follow Curiously Persistent on WordPress.com
  • About the blog

    This is the personal blog of Simon Kendrick and covers my interests in media, technology and popular culture. All opinions expressed are my own and may not be representative of past or present employers
  • Subscribe

  • Meta

Learning from Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs' fashion choices over the years

Understandably, technology news over the past week has been dominated by Steve Jobs’ resignation as Chief Executive from Apple. While he will stay on as Chairman, Tim Cook – former Chief Operating Officer – will take the helm.

There have been many wonderful pieces on Jobs (though some do read like obituaries) – these from Josh Bernoff and John Gruber being but two – which cover many angles – whether personal, professional, industry or other. I’m neither placed nor qualified to add anything new but I have enjoyed synthesising the various perspectives. Yet invariably, the person saying it the best was Jobs himself:

  • He knew what he wanted – “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking” (Stanford commencement speech)
  • He felt he knew better than anyone else – “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste. They have absolutely no taste. And I don’t mean that in a small way, I mean that in a big way, in the sense that they don’t think of original ideas, and they don’t bring much culture into their products.” (Triumph of the Nerds)
  • He, along with empowered colleagues, relentlessly pursued this – “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”(Stanford commencement speech)
  • He was a perfectionist – “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.2 (Playboy)

NB: The quotes above were taken from this Wall Street Journal article.

In Gruber’s words “Jobs’s greatest creation isn’t any Apple product. It is Apple itself.”

In 14 years he took Apple from near-bankruptcy to – briefly – the biggest company in the world by market capitalisation. He has been enormously successful. And while possibly unique – his methods run counter to textbook advice on how to run an organisation – a lot can be learned from him.

The thing I have taken most from this is Jobs’ uncompromising nature. If people weren’t on board with him, then to hell with them. This of course led to his dismissal from Apple in 1985. And his dogged focus on his preferences has informed his fashion choices over the years, as the above picture illustrates.

It might seem strange for a market researcher to take this away, particularly since research is stereotyped as decision-making by committee – something which Jobs despised:

  • “We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn’t build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.” (Playboy)
  • “For something this complicated, it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” (BusinessWeek)

Unfortunately, this stereotype is often true, and I have been guilty of perpetuating it on occasion.

One example was when trying to get a project up and running (on a far smaller scale than rescuing Apple admittedly). With a lot of stakeholders, I tried to include as many of their wishes and requests is possible. The end result was bloated, incoherent, unfocused and over-deadline. It wasn’t one of my finer moments.

Rather than bolt everything on, I should have appraised all the input and only included that which remained pertinent to the core objective. I lost authorship of the project, and it suffered.

While there will be counter-arguments, many public failures do seem to be the result of committee-made decisions. Two bloated, incoherent examples that immediately spring to mind are Microsoft Office 2003 and the Nokia N96. Conversely, there are many examples of visionary micro-managing leaders that have driven a company to success – Walt Disney, Ralph Lauren and Ron Dennis to name but three.

I am a researcher rather than a consultant, and so don’t intend to fully adopt this approach. However, it appears that there is a greater chance of success when primary research or stakeholder input informs, rather than dictates, the final decision.

Steve Jobs knew this. His flagship products weren’t revolutionary (IBM, Microsoft, Nokia and the like were the primary innovators). But his genius was in refining a variety of inputs and stimulus, and moulding them into an expertly designed final product.

And that is something to aspire to.

sk

Advertisement

The general public doesn’t need an iPad

iPad - evolution by Steve JobsSteve Jobs’ powers of presentation and salesmanship have been well remarked upon. However, one statement in his recent keynote address launching the iPad jarred for me.

All of us use laptops and smartphones now

Who is this “us”? The people in the audience? The people in Apple’s target market? Because it certainly isn’t everyone.

Data from Brandheld indicates 24% of UK mobile phone owners aged 16 or over think they have a smartphone (given our consumer-friendly definition of one), while 59% say that they have a laptop with wireless broadband. 17% say that they have access to both.

To an extent, this is just me being pedantic. Of course everyone doesn’t have a smartphone or laptop. Not everyone has a phone of any kind, let alone food, clothing or shelter.

A device doesn’t necessarily need 95% penetration to be ubiquitous; it merely needs to be the most desirable. Look at the iPhone. While sales are still increasing, probably no more than 1 in 20 people in the UK currently own one. Yet it has defined the category.

But I think the turn of phrase is interesting because it indicates the scope of the iPad. It is not a mainstream device. Not yet, anyway.

More so than the iPod and iPhone, the iPad is a disruptive technology. The market for tablet computers isn’t yet fully defined. There is no well established pre-cursor like the Walkman or Nokia series to create consumer expectation, for Apple to then surpass. The Kindle, the e-reader et al are nothing more than niche.

Unlike the iPod and iPhone, there is no obvious unique selling point to differentiate the device. Certainly, nothing to rival “1,000 songs in your pocket” or touch screen mobile web browsing. It will be a tough sell.

The five (original) steps in Everett Rogers diffusion of innovations model are

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Trial
  • Evaluation
  • Adoption

With disruptive technologies, the challenge is getting beyond the second stage. Aside from going to the Apple store on Regent Street in London, the only opportunity people in the UK will have to trial the technology is by testing an iPad that a friend or associate purchased. The path to adoption will be very slow.

Additionally, interest piques if, in general terms, a device is able to demonstrably save someone time, money or effort. The iPad appears to be a jack of all trades, but is it a master of any?

  • Web browsing: Web browsers themselves are optimised for mouse and keyboard navigation. Nevertheless, touch-screen specific web applications can modify and improve the experience
  • Video: Video is passive, so a touch screen isn’t really relevant. For lengthy programmes, the iPad will also become uncomfortable unless some sort of docking station is purchased in addition
  • Reading: This is where the potential lies. Somewhat unfairly, the iPad is essentially a glorified Kindle. But as with the Kindle, the high outlay and the ongoing costs render it worthwhile to only the most avid readers
  • Music: There seems to be little discernable additional benefit
  • Gaming: There is some real opportunity for multi-touch gaming but there is also a danger the iPad gets caught between the more portable iPhone and the more immersive Project Natal/Motion sensitive in-home gaming
  • Photos: There are certainly advantages to storing and displaying photos, but the lack of camera on the iPad is a startling omission
  • Brushes – an application that could be genuinely useful, but it is not a deal-breaker. Unless you want to pay $500 for a glorified etch-a-sketch.

Admittedly, the first generation iPod (bulky, mac only) and iPhone (2G, no GPS or cut, copy & paste) were relatively poor. A killer feature could emerge on the 2nd or 3rd generation iPad. But at this stage, it appears to be little more than a status symbol for a small niche of technology enthusiasts to store next to their minidisc, neo geo and em@iler.

sk

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Is TV advertising responsible for Apple’s success?

I was in a meeting a few days ago where Apple was described as a company that had retreated from large-scale TV advertising, despite TV advertising being responsible for its success.

I disagreed at the time, and remain pretty sure that this is a fallacy. Am I right?

Buttressed by Wikipedia and recent “25 year of Mac” posts, my broad perception of the history of Apple runs like this

  • Set up in the 1970s to moderate success
  • Macintosh launched with ads in cinema and during the 1984 Superbowl (watched by 97m) – initially sells well and ad is regularly cited as one of the best of all time
  • Computer market slumps and Steve Jobs is fired in May 1985
  • Incremental success for the rest of the 1980s
  • Windows 3.1 and – more importantly – Windows 95 take the PC to the next level and nearly kill Apple
  • Jobs comes back in, ends most of the product developments and places his faith in the iMac
  • iMac becomes a success and a design classic
  • iPod launched – the aesthetic of white earbuds and “1,000 songs in your pocket” become ubiquitous
  • iTunes overhauls an outdated music distribution system
  • iPhone brings touchscreen technology and simple web surfing to the masses
  • Halo effect of the Apple range boosts the computers – Apple is currently the number 4 computer manufacturer in the US
  • Jobs’ ill health and the rise of netbooks raise questions over Apple’s continuing success in the computer market

To my mind, TV advertising doesn’t play a particular big role in this rise, fall and rise of Apple. There have been iconic campaigns – 1984, Think Different, the dancing silhouette – which have contributed to the success. But they have not driven it.

That is the Cult of Mac.

The iPod may be mainstream, and the iPhone may be getting there. But Apple is not traditionally a mass market company. Their computers appeal to a niche audience. They may be the no.4 manufacturer, but the choice is PC or Sony. It is not Dell, Acer or Mac.

However this niche audience is passionate. They follow. They promote. They evangelise. They attend(ed) Macworld every year and hang on Steve Jobs’ every word.

That community is what has driven Apple’s success. Apple concentrate on the product – usability, design, experience. That leaves the marketing to the community. Alan Wolk has an interesting post on this – good advertising can accelerate success, but a decent product to win over the public is vital. In the case of the iPod, the evangelism changed an industry.

TV advertising has made plenty of products successful – from Hofmeister to Barclaycard to Cillit Bang. But Apple isn’t one of them.

Unless someone like to correct me?

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sigalakos/

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]