The Apple effect: How Steve Jobs & Co. won over the world
UPDATE: Steve Jobs passed on Wednesday. In this cover story, first published last month, Alan Webber explores what made Steve Jobs (and Apple) exceptional. Apple knew what consumers didn't want and understood the power of being itself. A look at what the company can teach corporate America.
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The value of those values is reflected in the people who come to work at the company, what they bring with them, and what they hope to accomplish there. According to McKenna, when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 he found a workforce that had gradually come to look like, feel like, and work like the people in typical large American companies. They had reverted to the default setting of business as usual.Skip to next paragraph
"Steve immediately went after that problem," McKenna says. "It was critical; he had to fix it. He streamlined the organization, got rid of competing teams, returned Apple so people were fighting for the company instead of fighting against each other."
But the most important lesson from Apple, according to McKenna: Look at things in unconventional ways. "Whether it's product design or the overall customer experience, Apple always tries to do it differently, and do it better," he says. "Innovation allows you to get a premium from the marketplace. And no matter how good you are, you can always do it better. Apple shows the value of always striving for perfection."
It sounds to me as if Apple is the quintessential "fast company" – a concept my editorial partner Bill Taylor and I invented when we launched Fast Company magazine in 1995. The idea was that there were a set of critical attributes that could make your company "fast": dynamic leadership at the top and leaders at all levels; a great design sensibility; the ability to outthink, out-innovate, and out-implement the competition; constant curiosity and a thirst for learning. At the time, we said that a fast company was the business equivalent of a mythical beast – a corporate unicorn. There were no real fast companies, but lots of companies that had many of the attributes. Does Apple come the closest to being that mythical beast?
I put the question to Keith Yamashita, the chairman of SYPartners, a San Francisco-based consultancy that helps leaders find the true aspiration of their company and then live up to it. He remembers his introduction to the world of Apple: It was 1984, and his father, an engineer who had worked on the Apollo moon mission, was invited to a private showing of the Macintosh. Mr. Yamashita went with him, and later, when he enrolled at Stanford as a student, bought a 128k Mac, "and that thing changed my life." After graduation, he went on to work at both Apple and NeXT Computer, the company Jobs founded after being ousted from Apple in 1986. He's had a lifelong connection with Apple.
So, I ask him, is Apple the quintessential fast company? Does it try to outthink, out-innovate, out-implement the competition?
"I'm not sure Apple even thinks about the competition," Yamashita says. "They're uniquely themselves without worrying about anyone else. When I worked for Steve there was little discussion about the competition. The aim was for us to be the most extreme version of ourselves. When you adopt that approach, it causes you to think about things in a different way."
The goal, Yamashita says, is to be true to the uniqueness of the enterprise. Too many companies get caught up studying their competitors, benchmarking their rivals. The result is an incremental approach to innovation: "If they did this, we need to respond with that."