Linked by David Adams on Wed 6th Oct 2010 16:51 UTC
Apple Let me tell you, when what you teach and develop every day has the title "Innovation" attached to it, you reach a point where you tire of hearing about Apple. Without question, nearly everyone believes the equation Apple = Innovation is a fundamental truth--akin to the second law of thermodynamics, Boyle's Law, or Moore's Law. But ask these same people if they understand exactly how Apple comes up with their ideas and what approach the company uses to develop blockbuster products--whether it is a fluky phenomenon or based on a repeatable set of governing principles--and you mostly get a dumbfounded stare. This response is what frustrates me most, because people worship what they don't understand.
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High Plains Drifter
Member since:
2008-11-02

I liked the article. But a key thing to remember about Apple is Apple wasn't always the Hollywood darling the author says it is today, and Steve Jobs didn't always have a cult of personality around him pulling a happy haze over consumers everywhere.

First, recall that when the Mac first came out, there was no mass loyal following ready to adopt it on faith. The Mac succeeded because it was a really, truly innovative product that was better than everything else out there. Even in its crippled, 128K form, it was clear that this computer was leaps and bounds better than a green-screen, text-based PC. It was the kind of product that any consumer could readily see as superior, and it also offered things for developers to get them excited too.

Second, recall that 10 years after the Mac came out, Apple was inches from bankruptcy or acquisition by IBM or Sun or somebody. Jobs, meanwhile, was a disgrace, a laughing stock and a poster boy in the business world for how NOT to run a company (how, indeed, to get kicked out of your own company). Too arrogant. Too un-businesslike with his attitude and his blue jeans.

It's not long ago that Apple had a negligible stock price and was being written off by Wall Street as a bit player in a rapidly consolidating tech world where large-volume commodity players like Dell and Sony were destined to take over. Apple didn't have a foot-hold in some niche market like science, research, finance, or industry. And the fanbase was eroding fast as better and better Intel chips made Windows PCs run, well, pretty well.

There was a time shortly before and after Jobs returned to the company that Apple was NOT anyone's darling, and HAD to come up with an insanely great consumer product or the company was going to perish.

That's where their "culture" was born. Design something insanely great that's better than all the consumer-grade junk out there and that you'd be psyched to have yourself. Or quit, and do something else. There was no other choice. With the profit margins that consumer electronics typically make, there's just no room for a small company (i.e., tiny compared to Sony or Panasonic or Samsung) to exist.

The "genius" that is Apple, then, is somehow getting the money behind the company to back all that it takes to do something really innovative. It's cheap and easy to do focus group tests and make whatever the focus group wants. Safe, too, 'cause if the product bombs, the product manager can blame the market research. But Apple didn't have any choice to do that... not being Sony, Samsung, etc., they wouldn't be able to compete and make a profit. Hence, innovate or close shop.

Apple paid up. Jobs (or whomever) convinced the money at Apple to make long-term investments in the company and TRUST them to design and build products that would turn the company around.

That's not how business is typically done in this country. So many companies are unwilling to innovate, scared to voice a new idea, forced to resort to market research before the executives are willing to invest money and reputation in something for fear of falling flat and looking foolish. Sucks the life out of working at a tech company, doesn't it?


Thus, Apple isn't magic. Steve Jobs is not the Messiah. Steve Jobs saw the writing on the wall and realized that no Mac fanbase was going to keep Apple alive with overpriced PC alternatives. I believe that Apple was just big enough for their investors not to sell out, so they agreed to let Jobs hire and pay and invest in whatever it takes for designers and engineers to make something right.

You want to be Apple? Hire the right people, pay them what they deserve, give them the best facilities to work in, and encourage them to make a great product that can and will actually get made and sold. That way, said people really want to come to work and do their best.

That's expensive, and real risky. You risk falling on your professional face and becoming a pariah like Jobs was when he was kicked out of his own company, all those years ago. But no focus group or market study is any substitute for taking risks.

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