Apple — Mastering Disruption!

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google — the big four. These technology behemoths pretty much run our daily lives and there’s no denying it. In fact, in the last four decades alone, they have generated a staggering $2.8 trillion collectively, out of which Apple’s market cap alone is $900 billion. Apple products have and continue to be awe-inspiring for consumers and critics alike, with their category-agnostic products and services. As a company, their approach to product design has been a paradigm shift from asking a customer what they want to telling them what they need.

Apple’s evolution — from a garage-based three-member startup to a spaceship-inspired campus sprawling over 12,000 acres and employing over 100,000 employees — is an inspiration to every company, whether big or small. Here, we highlight the unique factors that make the company and its journey such a beacon for any business!

Customer Focus

While all companies start out by wanting to delight their end user, somewhere along the way the focus tends to shift towards making the balance sheet green — no matter the cost. But Apple’s mantra for success defies this patter. In its CEO’s words, “Did we make the best product, and did we enrich people’s lives? If you’re doing both of those things — and obviously those things are incredibly connected, because one leads to the other — then you have a good year.” It’s hard to go wrong with such single-minded customer obsession! In fact, the focus on “enriching lives” is all-consuming — right from product inception to stores and points of sale. A case in point is this: all employees of Apple Stores are encouraged to carry a credo card with them to remind them of their customer-centric values. This ensures that the experience of the customer dictates the sale — the products almost sell themselves by the extraordinary experience they provide. And considering US businesses lose an estimated $83 billion a year due to poor customer service, this is a big takeaway for any company — especially one selling a product or service.

Innovation and Product Management

Apple’s North Star has always been continuous innovation, and they are a company driven by their core values. But what truly sets Apple apart as a tech juggernaut is that they create demand where none exists, creating products that solve problems well before they even occur. Transformative technology — a keyword at Apple — ensures that products from their stable criss-cross traditional demographics because of their innate appeal and desirability. This is highlighted by the fact that a company once known for its computers has morphed into one that has transformed at least five industries: telecom, personal computing, wearables, gaming, and entertainment; and each one of them have redefined the segment. But while innovation has its advantages, there are many troughs and failures that any product-based company must combat before riding the crest of success. Many of Apple’s fans are unaware of their ‘G4 Cube’, a cube-sized computer for personal use. Although brilliantly designed, its failure in the market saw its discontinuation fairly early on. However, the company chose to pivot while still incorporating some of the better features of the cube in later product designs — a fine example of product management. Any company can take a leaf out of Apple’s book — know when to market learning from mistakes, and cherry-pick winning features from failed products.

Thought Leadership

While the company has continued to succeed without Steve Jobs, it is difficult not to attribute the growing fortunes of the company to the thought leadership that he provided. This corporate buzzword simply means industry expertise that helps cut through the clutter and offer value to their customers. This helps reach buyers who are not looking to buy products but are looking for experiences that solve real problems. Thought leaders recognize trends before they happen and apply their insight to achieve measurable results. And Jobs was the epitome of this. The top management of any company that is looking at long-term success can look to Apple to understand how to evolve as, and nurture, thought leaders in their organizations. They create opportunities for their business by being mascots of innovative products, bridging knowledge gaps with their audiences, reigniting customer curiosity and brand loyalty, and — most importantly — generate credibility for the business.

Team Selection

“A leader’s job is to hire great people and trust them to deliver.” — Steve Jobs

Consider the two tech giants that attract the best talent: it took 600 Apple engineers fewer than two years to develop, debug, and deploy iOS 10 while 10,000 engineers at Microsoft slogged for five years to develop, debut, and ultimately retract Windows Vista. The key difference is evident — the team, not individuals, and how they were organized. Apple believes in all-star teams for critical projects and the outcome is for all to see — a 40% increase in productivity compared to the average company. At Apple, team performance is the lynchpin for their reward system, and individual ratings are closely tied to the team’s overall performance. Hence, it’s not surprising that, at Apple, teamwork is sacrosanct, making it one of the most collaborative workplaces. In fact, studies show that engaged employees are 44% more productive than satisfied workers, while inspired employees are 125% more productive. It is them common sense for organizations to create a conducive environment, paint a unified vision for their teams, and empower them to deliver.

There are detractors who question the viability of Apple’s continued success, however. The company’s marked reliance on their star product, the iPhone, which drives 60% of their sales combined with their dearth of any path-breaking ideas in the recent past has led to many questioning their long-term potential. But it seems like Apple’s brightest and most innovative days might just be ahead of it. The organization has proven its resilience by showing that it is much more than just Steve Jobs, and continues to flourish — at least economically. And even if they happen to fall, there will still be as many lessons to learn!