At this dark time in the life of man whose dazzling vision has touched and enchanted tens of millions of people across the globe, I'd like to offer a broad perspective on the ways in which that extraordinarily singular CEO, Steve Jobs, has disrupted not only corporate behavior but also the ways in which we as individuals engage with the world.
And let me start with one of the most-recent public comments made by Jobs, a remark that I think captures his audacious confidence and unshakeable belief that Apple must remain iconoclastic not just to be contrarian but because Jobs' deepest conviction was that companies should create and offer things that excite and delight customers, rather than merely make and sell that which is convenient and easy.
Three months ago, Jobs decided to join Apple's earnings call with analysts due to the special occasion of Apple reporting its first $20 billion quarter. In the Q&A session, Jobs was asked about the possibility that a forthcoming wave of tablets with 7-inch screens, as opposed to the iPad's 10-inch screen, would undercut iPad's success by being smaller, lighter, and less-expensive.
Here's the response from Jobs:
"Well, one could increase the resolution of the display to make up for some of the difference. But it's meaningless, unless your tablet also includes sandpaper, so that the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of the present size.
"Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff," Jobs went on. "There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
Only a jackass or a genius could have conceived of such an answer—users need to sand away 75% of their fingertips!—but only a genius could have gone on to argue convincingly that the goal shouldn't be on manufacturing-centric issues such as component costs but rather on the ultimate determinant of excellence: "This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps."
That remark should go up there with Henry Ford's "you can have any color you want as long as it's black" as truly iconic representations of the dominant logic of the time: for Ford, the central issue was mass production and efficiency and cost-control, whereas for Jobs the central issue has been to conceive phenomenal ideas and then iterate backwards to figure out ways to make them come alive at price points customers regard as great values.
So at this point, as Jobs is on medical leave from Apple and it's not unreasonable to conjecture that he might not be able to return, I wanted to share my own subjective list of 10 of Jobs' greatest achievements that will endure across many industries and for many years to come:
#10) Apple Fanboy Syndrome. All great movements must have zealous and frothing foot soldiers, and for Apple it's their legions of fanboys. Often derided for their singular devotion, the fanboys epitomize a deeply passionate commitment to Apple's products and philosophies that extends far beyond the fanboy cult: on a tour through the Bay Area last week, three separate CEOs of enterprise software companies admitted to being fanboys themselves. What value can you assign to that type of customer loyalty and advocacy—and, for all the abuse ascribed to the fanboys, what company in what industry wouldn't love to have such wild-eyed followers? And, if you want to get technical about it, here's a definition from UrbanDictionary.com: "4. One who waits in line for days in some instances, for Apple keynote speeches."
#9) Taking The Road Less Travelled. For the past 25 years, various know-it-alls have forecast Apple's doom because it would not allow other hardware companies to build devices for its software. And for periods in the 1990's, it looked at times like those predictions of Apple's demise were not at all premature. But Jobs remained unwavering in his belief that Apple's unique advantage would lie in its refusal to march to the beat of everyone else in the PC industry: following the Wintel standard and surrendering control of your most valuable and strategic asset: software. In these days when consumers want more choices and increasing levels of customization, many more companies are taking a long hard look at Apple's strategy of avoiding the pack.
#8) The Power Of Optimized Systems. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, who in the past 18 months has been the most-vocal advocate for highly engineered enterprise systems that optimize the interplay of purpose-built software and hardware, has cited the iPod, iPhone, and iPad as perfect examples of what such engineering can deliver. Jobs himself put it this way in mid-October: "And sixth and last, our potential competitors are having a tough time coming close to iPad's pricing, even with their far smaller, far less expensive screens. The iPad incorporates everything we have learnt about building high value products from iPhones, iPods and Macs. We create our own A4 chip, our own software, our own battery chemistry, our own enclosure, our own everything. And this results in an incredible product at a great price. The proof of this will be in the pricing of our competitor's products which will likely offer less for more." (To see this comment in full context, please check out Global CIO: Inside Steve Jobs' Head: The Supremacy Of Software.)
#7) Intense And Relentless Focus On Customers. I'm not saying other tech companies don't care about their customers—just that Jobs and Apple took it beyond the traditional level and have made it an obsession. A few years ago, when Apple began using some Intel chips inside some of its products, Jobs was asked why those Apple products didn't sport the "Intel Inside" logo. He replied that he had never heard of a customer asking Apple to put the Intel logo on its products, so why, Jobs asked in return, would we even think about doing that? And here's Jobs on why Apple's approach to mobile devices will ultimately trump Google's: "In reality, we think the open versus closed argument is just a smokescreen to try and hide the real issue, which is, what's best for the customer, fragmented versus integrated. We think Android is very, very fragmented and becoming more fragmented by the day. And as you know, Apple's strives for the integrated model so that the user isn't forced to be the systems integrator." (For full analysis of the Apple-Google spat, please see Global CIO: Steve Jobs Declares War On Google.)
#6) Elegant And Functional Design. Look again at Jobs' sarcastic but insightful comment about sandpaper:
"Apple's done extensive user-testing on touch interfaces over many years, and we really understand this stuff. There are clear limits of how close you can physically place elements on a touch screen before users cannot reliably tap, flick or pinch them. This is one of the key reasons we think the 10-inch screen size is the minimum size required to create great tablet apps." The design of Apple's products has not been driven by cost-control priorities, but by optimal customer experiences. That will be an incredibly valuable lesson for many other companies, both inside and outside the IT industry.
#5) Clarity Of Mission. A few years ago, Apple paired up with Google on various efforts, creating a formidable power couple whose engagement included Google CEO Eric Schmidt joining Apple's board. But when Jobs felt that Google was beginning to encroach on Apple's strategic businesses, Jobs forced Schmidt off the board. Here's how Apple's press release described it: "Eric has been an excellent Board member for Apple, investing his valuable time, talent, passion and wisdom to help make Apple successful," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple's Board." Too many companies in too many businesses give their boards almost unlimited latitude and autonomy—Jobs' ouster of Schmidt showed the extent of Jobs' unquestioned leadership of Apple and his willingness to create powerful adversaries for the benefit of his company.
#4) The Near-Magical Apple Retail Store Experience. Lots of tech companies have opened retail stores over the years: IBM, Microsoft, Xerox, AT&T, and Dell among them. I think it would be fair to say that none of those efforts has been a rip-roaring success. Conversely, Apple's Retail Store global network got off to a great start and has only accelerated since then—and the genesis of that success was Jobs' unwillingness to do things the traditional ways. He hired a retail expert from Target, they created and analyzed a range of prototypes in a warehouse, and ultimately decided to strive for a totally different type of retail experience than consumers looking for tech products had ever experienced. Instead of being designed around the computer stuff the store was hoping to sell, Jobs demanded that the Apple Stores be centered on the way people want to evaluate, experience, and use technology. And the stunning financial results from the Apple Retail Stores bear out Jobs' strategy: retail revenue increased by 95% to $3.85 billion; the stores "hosted" (Apple's customer-centric term, very revealing in its orientation) 75.7 million visitors during the quarter, up almost 50%; and in the notoriously low-margin retail industry, Apple's profit margin on its $3.85 billion in revenue was more than $1 billion, more than double the year-earlier quarter. The big lesson from all segments of Apple's business: put the customer at the heart of all your thinking and great things can happen.
#3) The Supremacy Of Software. Business models, massive revenue streams, and tradition have presented significant obstacles for IT companies to move their focus from hardware to software in spite of the fact that all the signs clearly point to the emerging preeminence of software as the driving force behind business innovation, insight, and opportunity. Jobs has had no such problem because he's always argued about the intrinsic and escalating value of software. Here's how he put it in the mid-October conference call in response to a question about other device makers closing the gap on Apple's mobile products: "You're looking at it wrong. You're looking at it as a hardware person in a fragmented world. You're looking it as a hardware manufacturer that doesn't really know much about software, who doesn't think about an integrated product, but assumes the software will somehow take care of itself. . . . And you assume that the software will somehow just come alive on this product that you're dreaming of, but it won't." (For the full story on Jobs' views on software's preeminence, please click here.)
#2) Torpedoing Outdated Business Models. Unwilling to accept outdated business models in industries ripe for exploitation by Apple's new products, Jobs—once again—defied tradition and overturned the ancient and low-value revenue models in the music and book industries. As we wrote in Global CIO: Steve Jobs Torpedoes Another Stale Business Model: "Steve Jobs, just a few years after single-handedly shattering the music industry's sclerotic business model with the iPod and iTunes, has taken his revolution to the frumpy book-selling business with the iPad and an audacious new pricing model. . . . In much the same way that various desperate characters in 'Casablanca' attempted to beg, buy, or steal salvation from Humphrey Bogart's Rick in the form of the exit visas he possessed, staid book sellers—for whom the introduction of the paperback was an almost life-threatening experience—are now rushing to secure favor with Jobs and Apple in the hope of not being left behind in what they are coming to view as the desolate pre-E-reader world."
#1) Daring To Be Insanely Great. From the iPod to the App Store, from the Apple Retail Stores to iTunes, from the iPad to the MacBook Air, and on to the new generation of Mac systems that are selling at 7X the rate of the overall PC market, Jobs has inspired and driven and whipped his Apple colleagues to go beyond "exceeding expectations" and strive for uncompromising greatness. More than just a creative genius who could conceive new ways of doing things far beyond the vision of most of us mere mortals, Jobs has always compounded that aesthetic brilliance with passionate leadership that created a company stuffed from end to end with wild-eyed evangelists who believe that "insanely great" is much more than a catchy slogan—that it's an uncompromising mission.
Yes, more than anything else, Steve Jobs' legacy is that he's taken "insanely great" from a narrow and often-unrealized aspirational slogan to an unshakeable sense of purpose and possibility embraced not only by his company but also by his worldwide legions of customers.
Bob Evans is senior VP and director of
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