For many of you, Steve Jobs IS Apple Computer. So, last night I went to see the new movie about Steve Jobs with great interest. I’d read the book on Next Computers, which Jobs spearheaded after being ungraciously dismissed from the company he founded with Steve Wozniak. The Steves, as I call them, embody the fantasy of creating a company from nothing and seeing it become one of the most profitable and widely known brands worldwide.
If you clicked on this post hoping to see a movie review, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you can learn more about the movie — with Ashton Kutcher playing Jobs — here. I will say, I did like the movie and recommend it. Based on what I know, it seemed pretty accurate.
I was surprised to see the audience at a theater in Metro DC because I expected to see a bunch of my geek colleagues from Mashable, TechCocktail, and DC Tech Meetups. Instead, I found the audience mostly middle-aged couples who probably remember the introduction of Apple (and other personal computers) and the iconic 1984 Super Bowl commercial that introduced the Apple Macintosh — I happen to be penning the article on the grandson of one of those first Macs.
Jobs — I’m gonna change the world
Jobs didn’t set out to create a better computer, he set out to change the world and I think most readers would agree that Apple, led by his vision, DID change the world. And, Apple Computers became synonyms with innovation — from the innovative graphic interface of the early Mac, to the intuitive iPod, to the miniaturized iPad.
Of course, not everything Apple Computers touched turned to gold — as the movie shows with the failed Lisa Computer, named for Jobs illegitimate daughter. And Jobs himself, was an incredible ass — from walking away from Lisa’s mother when she told him she was pregnant to the way he snubbed those who sweated with him in his parents garage by giving them no shares in the company when it went public.
The brilliance of Steve Jobs
Of course, his lack of people skills didn’t help the company, but his brilliance allowed the company to flourish despite his arrogance, his impatience, and the way he alienated those closest to him. His brilliance was that he intuitively understood and embraced elements of innovation management without studying them. So, what made Apple Computer the standout company it is? And, will Apple Computer survive now that Steve Jobs is dead?
Customers buy solutions, not products
Jobs knew this. Computers solved problems for buyers and that’s what they wanted. They didn’t want a computer, they wanted what a computer did for them.
Consumers don’t know they need something until you show them
It’s true. Consumers struggle with a problem and accept it because they don’t know there’s a solution somewhere. Analysts predicted air travel would remain a novelty at State Fairs until Pan Am started scheduled flights. Now, air travel is ubiquitous and the foundation for an entire industry. Steve saw a problem and fixed it.
You’re not competing with others in your industry
You’re competing with 2 guys out there in their garage willing to give up everything to change the world. At the time the Steves founded Apple Computers, IBM ruled the computer industry with an iron fist. Companies like HP, Sperry, Honeywell, Commodore, and a host of others created business based on one-upping IBM. Only Steve Jobs knew that you can’t create an iconic business by doing what your competitors do — just doing it better. Instead of jumping into the red ocean, he plunged headlong into a blue one.
Identifying your company by its products is a fools game
Apple didn’t make computers, it changed people’s lives by helping them with problems. If Apple only made computers, we might never have smartphones, or apps, or little computers that fit in your purse.
You can’t run a company with numbers
Now, don’t go off the deep end. I’m NOT saying you should ignore numbers — and as someone currently writing a book on social media analytics you can bet I’m a firm believer in numbers. But, you can’t let the numbers tell YOU what to do. Metrics help GUIDE decisions — they don’t tell you what to do. And, metrics are backward looking. They tell you where you’ve been. That’s great for tactical decisions like how much product are we selling so we know how much to make. Using metrics for strategic decisions is a little more intuitive. You can’t just extend a trend line and expect that sales will follow the trend.
To make strategic decisions, you need metrics that are forward looking — like what are consumers saying about your brand — NOT what are stockholders doing with your stock. Almost by definition, stock price is a short-term valuation of your brand and doesn’t look at the long-run. However, your strategic decisions must look 5 – 10 years out. Putting money into an obsolete technology – the Apple II — just because it was currently selling well is naive and short-sighted.
Will Apple survive without Steve Jobs?
That’s a good question. The answer lies not in the man — because Steve Jobs was a seriously flawed man — but in the organization to replace him with another visionary who embodies the principles of Steve Jobs and gives him/ her the time and resources he/she needs to continue the innovative legacy of Steve Jobs.