Apple will be fine without Steve Jobs. Because Steve Jobs isn’t just a CEO, he’s an idea and an idea that all companies should embrace. I know, because I aspire to bring him to life every day at my company.
Steve Jobs represents an ethos that is core to Apple’s culture. He, as an idea, is a simple one. It’s all about building amazing, intuitive, life-changing products that people love. To embody this principle, Apple doesn’t need Jobs. It can live on through the shared vision of Apple’s talented people who deeply care and are dedicated to creating greatness. As long as that culture continues to thrive in Cupertino, Apple will be fine.
That said, it’s also a culture other companies would be well-served to have. As MarketWatch reporter Brett Arends wrote last night, “What Apple has achieved isn't impossible. Why don't more companies do it?”
Because it’s really, really hard. At HUGE, we all come together, every day, to try to build Apple-caliber digital products that people love to use. That’s what our clients are asking from us when they hire us to create a new mobile application, website, social media experience, outdoor digital installation or anything else. They want us to produce something so special, something that's so genuinely loved by their users, that their business is dramatically transformed as a result.
That's no easy task. It means pushing yourself to design something, and then throwing it all away to try to make it better. It means constantly challenging yourself to see if the experience can be easier, more beautiful, simpler, more elegant, more in tune with what people will embrace. It's a painstaking undertaking that means sweating all the details, because your heart and soul is in it, and because it’s become your baby and you want it to be absolutely perfect.
Then one day you release it to the world - in our case turning it over to our clients and their audience - and you hope for the best. You catch yourself holding your breath, sitting at the edge of your seat, engaged in a very pregnant pause waiting for feedback. But in your heart of hearts, you know that it will be ok and the product will be a success for one simple reason: you designed it for yourself. That’s the secret to all great design: you may not be a member of the product’s target demographic, and you may never use it in real life, but you designed it for yourself. And your goal was to build a revolutionary product. Your self-imposed expectation of performance exceeds that of most technology users in the world. And that’s what makes great products great.
But most people don’t bother to do this. That’s why Apple is such a standout. For many the passion, the heartache and the pressure that’s required is just too much. They fall back to what is easy: mediocrity. They punch the clock, go home at five to play soccer with the kids, and don’t really push themselves or their team toward greatness.
HP's TouchPad is a case in point. Think for a moment about that product and the team behind it. Were they really trying to reinvent the world? To create the best tablet possible? No. If they were, they certainly weren't trying hard enough. Because all they created was an iPad clone with a few extra bells and whistles. Why would anyone buy a bad imitation of the original for the same price? They wouldn’t and didn’t.
If HP had a Steve Jobs culture, they would have made something completely different. They would have pushed themselves to make something better. Better could have been cheaper; better could have been something dramatically different that makes people rethink whether an iPad is the tablet for them; better could have had consumers wondering how they ever lived without it. But HP took the easy way out.
For many years, taking the easy way out was relatively acceptable. You could get away with it and keep a product on the market. No more. In the tech world this has come to life as a “Sell Big or Die Fast” mentality. To non-tech companies, the stakes are the same. There’s no such thing as an offline business. Every company’s customers, employees, job candidates, “friends,” and “followers” are technology users. They create mass public opinion and operational performance; they shape brands and drive sales. In 2012, 50 percent of consumer spending is going to be influenced by or transacted through the Internet, according to Forrester Research. This means every company must provide users with a first-class digital experience they want to use, ideally one worthy of Steve Jobs’ approval. This is what I write about in Users, Not Customers. Every company can and should provide people with outstanding digital experiences, because it is increasingly becoming the point of difference between companies that thrive and those that die.
So the opportunity for you, as a manager, executive, technologist, or whatever your job is, is to follow in Steve Jobs' footprints. Be the Steve Jobs of your company. Just like him, you can push yourself and your team to create exceptional digital products and experiences that are so special in forty years you'll look back and be proud that you were part of it. It's the key to your business success, your company's ability to compete in today's digitally-driven economy, and it's the key to a rewarding, fulfilling career and personal happiness. Make something you really, really love.