The outpouring of grief, thanks and acknowledgement with the death of Steve Jobs was phenomenal and set records across Twitter, bringing the Fail Whale out on more than one occasion. I was one of those echoing those sentiments.
But like Shamu above, there has also been a lot of people who have openly criticised his tenure as head of Apple as nothing more than a ‘great marketer’ and other such comments questioning his credentials around innovation and design. Aside from the obvious crack at people in marketing which I’ll ignore, there are some extremely valueable lessons that both Steve and Apple have taught us since their 1984 launch of the first Macintosh.
1) If it all goes wrong, don’t give up. Apple did many things wrong. Many, many things. Firing Jobs the first time around was one, and some of their ‘innovation’ in the 1980s and 1990s was horrible. Anyone remember the Newton? But persistence and focus on the dream was obvious and the many false-starts gave way to iMac, iTunes, iPod and so on. The beauty of having explored so many false avenues, is that when you take something to market like the iPad, you’re so much more confident in your own success. Now, if only they could get the Magic Mouse right….!
2) The early bird catches the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. An old marketing quote of ‘first mover advantage’ no longer applies. Some thought the iPad was a gamble. But Apple had looked at other tablets in the marketplace – they were by NO means the first – and watched what everyone else did wrong. They then corrected those mistakes and make their offer better. And not just a bit better, but better in 100 ways. Apple are often LAST to market, and deliberately so.
3) Protect your IP. Apple don’t like people copying them and despite people suggesting that Apple themselves have copied numerous things, when the shoe is on their foot, they’ll boot people as hard as they can. Hypocritical? Who cares? Apple don’t. If they believe the idea is theirs, and they can prove it, then they’ll take steps to protect it.
4) Learning something unexpected, can deliver somthing unexpected. One of the courses Steve Jobs took at college after he dropped out was calligraphy – the art of writing. That was something he brought into Apple and something he took into the way Apple treated type on screen. It was something that Microsoft mirrored. All from a course that he thought ‘might be interesting’.
5) Laying down with the enemy may be the best decision you ever make. Some of the tough decisions Apple took in the mid-90s was to abandon some of their ‘island’ principles and engage some of the tools their opposition used. Let’s take 1997′s embracing of Microsoft Office. Instantly documents could go backwards and forwards between Macs and PCs and drew the two closer, opening up Apple to a whole new set of potential customers. The same has been true for installing Intel chips and allowing users to boot Windows XP. There are times when they protect their closed system, but there are times when they know its wise to let people in.
6) Start in a niche. Apple was born out of the design industry and its roots are still firmly there. You didn’t design on a PC. You didn’t edit video on a PC. You didn’t make music on a PC. Apple provided the best tools to be creative and they nutured those industries for decades to develop brand advocates that they knew would forever worship their products. Still to this day the creative industries wouldn’t touch any other computer to design a logo.
7) There is no such thing as an original idea. Whatever you think about Apple and innovation, Apple and Steve Jobs never got to where they got to through original ideas. That might sound strange and critical, but innovation doesn’t come in light-bulb moments; it comes from the amalgamation of other small ideas combined together and executed with vision. And that’s what Steve had – the vision to take the small ideas and combine them into something great, and the vision to see that this end product was something we didn’t even know we wanted.
Look at a product called MusicMatch Jukebox – a ‘competitor’ to iTunes. They both helped you manage your music and rip CDs, but whereas Musicmatch’s main feed came from Napster and was played on one of a hundred MP3 players, Apple had its own store selling music direct to its own software and being played on its own MP3 players. While the design of the iPod was unique, it was nothing radically new. Apple had taken design cues from around the world, bundled together an online store, some software and a range of tools to change the way the entire world consumed music. No lightbulb moment, no original idea, but a revolution nonetheless.
Sometimes, the enemy will defeat itself. Sometimes all you need is time to win with your business. And with that, you need patience. One of the criticisms that used to be levelled at Apple was that you couldn’t play games on them and that the PC was the champion of home computing because the kids could play Doom on it too. Think about that now. With the arrival of the XBox, PS2, Wii and a multiude of handheld gaming, including their own phones, who cares if you can’t play a game on a Mac anymore? Apple didn’t bow to the masses and worry about gaming on their computers. They just watched and waited for others to innovate past the point where it didn’t matter to the market anymore.
Steve Jobs will be sorely missed. Like Zuckerberg and the early Gates, Steve saw the world not as what it was, but what it was going to be and even more importantly, what it could be. He didn’t want to make millions through his ideas, he just wanted to make millions of people happy through his ideas.
I might be a fan boy. I might have 6 Apple Macs in my office and only 4 employees. But if I’m lucky enough to incorporate just one of these lessons into my business, then I’d consider that we’ve moved a long way in the right direction.