Change Your Company -- And Your Industry -- Steve Jobs Style
Apple recently announced the latest iteration of their popular tablet, the iPad 2. The event went like most other Apple events: an enthusiastic crowd, spontaneous bursts of applause, a great innovative new product, and a standing ovation for the man behind Apple's wheel, Steve Jobs.
Steve Jobs has brought Apple into a dominating position in the past few years, and he's done so without Apple acting like other tech companies. He's created a culture around a company that has created millions of Apple zealots worldwide, all scrambling to get their hands on the latest Apple creation.
So what can we learn from the wizard behind the curtain of one of the world's most successful companies on revolutionizing an industry? Here are some ways to follow Apple's lead and change your industry.
Move to Where the Market Will Be, not Where It Is
"A good player goes where the puck is. A great player goes where the puck is going to be.” ~ Wayne Gretzky
Instead of trying to keep up with the tech Joneses, Steve Jobs instead focuses on game-changing products.
Jobs has always had a knack for brushing aside conventional wisdom and shipping products that consumers can't help but purchase. Jobs does this by creating products that are so different from everything else that consumers can't help but gravitate towards them.
When other tech companies focused on features and functionality, Apple made product design the main focus. The best products are often the ones that take a twist on old-fashioned, out-dated competition.
If you're going to change your industry, you're going to have to start evaluating conventional wisdom. What can be removed? What needs to be added? What's been around forever because, well, nobody knows why?
These are the questions that need to be asked frequently in order to get ahead of the game, to see where the puck is going to be.
Don't Show Up
The annual consumer electronics show CES is quite an event. Every year top technology brands hire top music artists, movie stars, and host massive parties to gain the attention of the conference attendees. The goal: draw attention by any means necessary to promote products.
And every year, there's one company who never attends: Apple.
Instead of blowing money on extravagant shows and famous people to promote their products, Apple hosts their own show. The keynote is almost always given by Steve Jobs, demoing the latest and greatest Apple products. They don't use celebrity endorsements because, well, the new product is the celebrity. Whenever an Apple event is held, major news networks report on it, fans tweet it, and Apple's new shiny product is the water cooler talk for the rest of the week.
Oftentimes where we aren't is more important than where we are. Apple realized that by not going to CES, they could distance themselves from the hoopla. They prefer to let their product speak for itself, instead of a paid endorsement from a movie star.
Don't let the "but everyone who's anyone will be there" talk keep you from losing focus on what's really important: creating the best product that you possibly can.
Apple's catalog is meager compared to those of other tech titans. While other tech juggernauts have more than 1,000 products on their lines, Apple only focuses on a few. You'd think this would lead to fewer sales from Apple. After all, the long tail is where all the money is made, right?
It turns out that Apple's "paltry" product offering accounts for massive sales. Apple passed up rival Microsoft early last year as the top technology company, and as of Q4 of last year, was the third-biggest company in the world in market capitalization.
Apple's tiny product line is what makes it so successful because they can focus intently on their core products, making sure they're the best in the world.
In How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins explains that many great companies flounder because they lose focus on the things that made them great to begin with. These companies believe that because they have one great product, any product they release after that is destined to have just as much success. In reality, these extra products only steal focus from their core competency.
Companies in every industry fall prey to this problem. Too many ideas – no matter how great they are – in the end can kill a company. Jobs has been fantastic at not pursuing mediocre or even great ideas, only jumping on the game-changing concepts.
When you lose focus, you lose the one thing that made you successful in the first place. Changing your industry requires you to have laser-sharp focus on your core competency.
Look First to Remove
What makes Apple products so great? Oftentimes it's hard to pin-point exactly why we gravitate towards Apple products, but that's because it's what they don't have.
Tech products are notorious for having lots of fiddly knobs, controls, and towering user manuals. Not so with Apple products. They only have the functionality that makes it possible for even the most non-techy users to use right away. (I can't tell you how many children under the age of five that can play games on their parents' iPhones or iPads, without any instruction.)
Fewer features also means less potential points of failure. Apple is often praised for products that "just work", and much of that can be attributed to the fact that they don't include the kitchen sink, but only the bare minimum needed to create a great user experience.
There's a natural inclination to add more and more options and controls to our products. What can you take away that will improve your product?