Whenever people talk about success in technology, they usually mean bringing something cool and innovative to life.
And when it comes to innovation in technology the first brand that comes to mind is Apple. I don't think anyone will fight me on this one.
Here's where it gets tricky, or why you can't innovate like Apple:
The vast majority of executives who say, “I want to be just like Apple,” have no idea what it really takes to achieve that level of success. What they’re saying is they want to be adored by their customers, they want to launch sexy products that cause the press to fall all over themselves, and they want to experience incredible financial growth. But they generally want to do it on the cheap.
That's right. When executives talk about that kind of product power they have no idea what it really takes to make it happen. It's not just one thing. It's a number of things you need to get right -- and commit to them long term.
How long? As long as it takes to make a product people adore. If that's a little vague, here's why:
You are no match to Apple
From the Pragmatic Marketing post (in bold) -- Apple:
- doesn't do (superficial) market research - their research is immersive (dare I say experiential?)
- has a very small team who designs their major products
- owns their entire system - that means better control. The other side of that it means greater risk and responsibility
- focuses on a select group of products - doing fewer things better
- has a maniacal focus on perfection - getting it right is better than getting it out (for example not releasing a product that is not ready for prime time) is a tough philosophy to live with
When you're a public company, to me that also means being able to manage stock market expectations, where the actual handling of promises is done by third parties. That's beyond the scope of this post, though.
The keywords that should jump out at you are select, focused, and in control -- and responsible, not merely brought to accountability when things don't work out or there isn't one person in charge.
Having worked with several entrepreneurs and new products in the last year, I know that there are some founding teams and technologists who have vision. And I've heard the question "what would Apple do?" frequently.
Want to take a bite out of the apple?
If you say you are going to be "the Apple" of you industry, there are several things you can do to get there.
They're all about long term vision, focus, and specifically what is in and what is out (with an eye on profit) within a 18-month to 3-year period, getting to know your customers intimately or what I call big picture listening to produce products you would fall in love with.
And the crucial piece, because often the one with the best return on investment, is getting the people right. Yes, people are human and messy, and you'd rather automate many parts of your process. I don't disagree with any of those points.
Getting the people right
Is much more than figuring out your customer persona. It also means hiring for what you need vs. what you think you want.
I've been involved in many organizations during moments of stress for the business -- spikes in growth acceleration, mergers or acquisitions, pivot strategies for product lines, joint venture negotiations -- and found that often organizations keep hiring the same kind of person.
Over and over again, same profile candidates were considered. In one particular case, even an eerie case of quasi-multiplicity -- a whole organization with the same exact skill set combination and profile from the executive team all the way down.
Some recent examples that come to mind are a brand agency looking to explode in growth by hiring someone who has done branding in an agency setting, a digital team working with an organization that needs to bridge its disconnect with customers looking for a "save as" version of the same skill sets it already has on board.
It's comfortable to bring on board people whose skill sets match ours. Especially when we're facing periods of change, or seek to innovate or even trade ourselves creatively out of a tight spot, it's essential to consider a different set of characteristics and experience.
To me, taking a bite out of the apple starts with vision -- a leader or leadership team who has the skill and ability to see the form in the block of marble when it comes to people and products.
Some questions to get you started
How do you make decisions?
What serves you well, and what habits do you need to replace?
Where is your weakest link?
and a fun one: Would the apple bite back?