It’s been less than a week since Apple Inc. released the iPad tablet computer, and the amount of press it has engendered is impressive indeed. Whether it is hailed as yet another stroke of technological genius, for a questionable foray into the ill-fated land of tablets, there’s no doubt that this latest launch further establishes Steve Jobs has an enduring icon of innovation.
Today, the Washington Post asked this question of its readers:
“Not every product the Apple CEO has introduced has been a hit. So what accounts for the aura of incredible success that surrounds Steve Jobs? Why don’t others who are possibly just as successful become cult figures like he has?”
Here are my thoughts on the puzzle, as posted along with the other responses to the Post’s question:
A key element that has made Steve Jobs a cult figure of innovation has been his ability to sustainably tap into consumers’ hidden aspirations and enjoyment of useful devices that are easy to use and just plain “cool.” Lots of companies have made products that were successful for a while but then lost out to the next cool thing. Job’s distinction is that for over 30 years he has been consistently able to think about what people do in their everyday lives that they could do easier and better, then morph existing technology into a cool, sexy form that does the job well.
This single-minded focus on the customer and the marketplace is not easy to maintain, as illustrated by the dismal performance of Apple Computer in the years between the time that Steve Jobs was forced out of the company and subsequently brought back to revive it. Clearly, coasting on success while losing focus on the evolving market and customer expectations very nearly did Apple in before they brought Jobs back as their nexus of inspiration.
However, the ability to create exciting new products and continue evolving from a customer-centric focus is only one part of the consistency that has made Steve Jobs an innovation hero. Another, perhaps less obvious aspect of his genius since his return to Apple has been his ability to keep the company aligned on his vision of the user as the center of the company’s efforts. Although there have been ups and downs, it’s clear that more often than not, all parts of the company from R&D through marketing, sourcing and production are aligned and focused on designing, producing, and marketing the next cool thing in a consistent, but flexible manner. This aligned support from the top on down is critical in creating and maintaining a high performance organization that is capable of developing and implementing flexible processes and systems that support a consistent stream of business results.
Just as the Rolling Stones’ four decades of ability to successfully tap into the public’s rock consciousness will mark them as cult musical icons, Steve Jobs’ sustainable ability to inspire joy and satisfaction with cool, highly functional products and services places him securely and enduringly in the innovation Hall of Fame.
D. Scott Harper, Ph.D. is Sr. Partner and COO of Business Advancement Inc. (BAI). Since 1991, BAI has enabled companies to sustainably unlock innovation and dramatically increase market leadership. For more information, visit our website to see how we can help you Increase the ROI of innovation.