One More Thing
Today I finished the (600 page) biography of Steve Jobs. I should have spent more time working on my programming projects but I found the book so well written and so full of interesting details that I couldn’t stop reading it. And an ironic aspect of this was that it was a real, paper book. This is the first “real” book I have read for a while. Most of my reading now is in the form of audio books on my iPhone and eBooks on my iPad (two of Steve Jobs’ last great creations).
Most people agree that Jobs was a genius. He wasn’t a genius in the same way that Einstein was – having exceptional intelligence – but he had a unique combination of artistic and engineering skill, amazing intuition about how his devices should work, and an unstoppable ambition to make Apple the greatest technology company ever.
His professional life seemed to have two stages: the early years which were full of disasters, ridiculous fiascos, and crazy decisions which made Apple a huge success story and then almost destroyed it a few years later; and the later years when he returned to Apple when the company just produced one exceptional product after another: the iMac, Mac OS X, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the iTunes store, and the Apple stores.
How did he do it? I don’t know, but there were elements of genius, elements of luck, and maybe most important: elements of pure determination and persistence. Apple became the world’s most important and biggest (by some measures) technology company under his leadership. Could anyone else have done it? I doubt it. Will Apple be able to continue succeeding now that Jobs is gone? Only if they remember the lessons he has given them.
There was one big reason Apple did so well when other great technology companies gradually sunk into oblivion (I’m thinking about HP, IBM, Microsoft, and RIM, but I’m sure there are many others). That reason was that Apple did not follow the standard corporate business model. It was better than that.
I guess the number one edict of the standard model is: profits first. Given the huge profits Apple makes you might think that philosophy applies there too, but I don’t think it does. Jobs himself said so and I think his actions showed that. Jobs’ philosophy was “products first”. He created products people wanted and were prepared to pay for. Because of the success of the products, profit naturally followed.
Another unusual aspect of Apple’s strategy was that it didn’t give its customers what they asked for. Jobs said that if Henry Ford had given his customers what they asked for he would have given them a a faster horse, instead he gave them what they really wanted (even though they didn’t know it). Of course it’s easy to create something you think people might want but only Jobs has consistently created new products which genuinely are so highly loved by their users.
Apple does no product testing, it does no focus groups, it doesn’t do PowerPoint presentations, and it’s very suspicious of the advice and opinions of experts in business, management and marketing. Many of these are contrary to “best practice” and that’s why other companies don’t succeed like Apple does: they just follow the crowd. And many of them have the audacity to claim they are innovators or entrepreneurs. What a joke!
For Apple to continue to succeed it must continue valuing the opinion of the engineers and artists (people like Jony Ive) who have the real talent. The CEO is currently Tim Cook who has a degree in industrial engineering (that has to be good) and an MBA (that is very, very bad). Let’s just hope he forgets all the crap he learnt when he did that MBA!