A lot of people have posted tributes to Steve Jobs over the past week. I’ve seen him
called the CEO of
the Decade (something I agree with) and also
compared to Henry Ford (I sort of agree with). I’d like to call attention to four
lessons we can learn from Steve Jobs’ Apple, two positive and two negative. First
Apple avoided falling into the trap of the Innovator’s Dilemma
Apple avoided falling into the trap of the Innovator’s
Dilemma. In a nutshell, the Innovator’s Dilemma says the following (I am paraphrasing):
when you invent something, first you are trying to penetrate a new market and convince
people to buy your invention. At this stage you will do anything to get noticed. After
a while, your invention becomes mainstream. Your profits predictable. Your investors
complacent. Then a new disruptive
technology is starting to show up here and there. You ask your customers (who
are all mainstream consumers or businesses) what they want and you build that for
them. Pretty soon, you go out of business (or drastically lose share) because the
new disruptive technology overtook you. You failed because you made good management
decisions (focusing on profits, listening to customers, etc), hence the dilemma. Henry
Ford is credited with saying: “If I listened to my customers, I’d have built
a faster horse.”
Apple constantly churned and churned out new products, defining new categories. The
pace of innovation was breathtaking, as soon as a new iPhone was released, there were
rumors of a newer and faster one. Some would say that Apple was going to cannibalize
their older products with the new, but they forged ahead anyway, with the profits
to show for it. Apple embraced the disruptive technologies, not fought them.
Apple worked to create an experience, not just raw technology
When you buy an iPad, you are buying an experience. With the integration with iTunes
you can download Apps, books, movies, magazines, and of course music. There is a whole
ecosystem around Apple and the iPad, that is why they don’t OEM iOS to other vendors
to build a device, Apple wants to control the experience.
Android on the other hand has no such ecosystem. They build the OS and let the OEMs
build the hardware. There are phones running Android that are much better than the
iPhone and there are tablets that are just as good as the iPad, but don’t sell well.
Why? There is no ecosystem. I went into the local electronics shop here in Hong Kong
and played with the Lenovo and Samsung tablets and there was no true “feel” to them,
it was just a screen waiting for you to configure stuff on. Good for geeks, but not
for consumers. My mom needs the simplicity of an ecosystem and an integrated experience.
Google and by extension their OEMs, figured that slick and cool technology was going
to be enough to win. Apple realized that good technology was not enough, users demanded
an experience, and Apple gave it to them.
Now some lessons from things that Steve could have done better:
Apple suffers from the “Curse of the superstar CEO”
When I was in business school, I read a case study called “Curse
of the superstar CEO”. The article stated that recently we have looked to leaders
(CEOs) who have a lot of charisma and we tend to worship them like a religious figure.
The curse of the superstar CEO is very problematic, it leads to leadership succession
problems as well as exaggerates the impact that the CEO has on the company they are
Steve Jobs was larger than life, the black turtle neck shirt and jeans (which I liked)
became a cultural icon. No matter how great a CEO Tim Cook will be, he will always
be compared to Steve Jobs and will always disappoint simply for not being Steve. (If
you don’t believe me, just ask Steve Ballmer how he is doing not being Bill Gates.)
Apple Took secrecy to an extreme
I understand how you want to keep things secret in a competitive marketplace. I also
understand the value of trying to control the message. That all said, Apple took this
all to an extreme. They shut down fan rumor sites (by
suing fans who were kids!), sent the police to people’s homes to look for a lost
iPhone prototype, and never talked to the press.
While this creates a tremendous amount of buzz, it also leads to misaligned expectations.
When the MacBook Air and the iPhone 4S were announced, their reviews and reception
were not that great as people were holding out and expecting something more. While
the secrecy worked to generate buzz, it did not always work out as a positive. When
secrecy is taken to such an extreme, it can work against you. While Apple is still
super positive, they can get away with a lot, but not forever.
Stephen Forte sits on the board of several start-ups including Triton Works. Stephen is also the Microsoft Regional Director for the NY Metro region and speaks regularly at industry conferences around the world. He has written several books on application and database development including Programming SQL Server 2008 (MS Press).