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What the iPad Taught Us

After a weekend of Apple selling its newest offering in the order of $150 million in revenue, I was inspired to ask, “What do these other players — IBM, Warner Brothers, and Microsoft have in common — that we can all learn from?”

Have you ever gone into some endeavor only half-heartedly or half-believing, only to find that you came up short (just like you thought you would)?

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I am not talking about something mystical as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I am talking more about this: Why can one person in an  activity come out a winner and another (in the same exact category or activity) come out with some compromised failure?

In part, it has to do with knowing what’s possible.

What is real?
Now this has nothing to do with “what is real.” That is defied everyday by brilliant marketers, branding professionals, CEOs and everyday individuals. I am talking about the what-if-you-knew-what-would-occur-if-you-just-knew-the-rules-to-what-works aspect of things.

I mean, who knew:

  • An individual could jump like Michael Jordan until it first happened?
  • A failing ice cream business could be saved from bankruptcy by changing its name (and keeping everything else exactly the same)?
  • That we would all need more than 640kb for our computers?
  • That self-made online videos would become the next channel of communication amongst the masses?
  • That permission was preferred (and necessary) by people who chose to be marketed to?
  • That $150,000,000 worth of product could be sold on launch day of a new technology product (FYI: Apple’s iPad)?

Challenging conventional wisdom
Apple is famous for its forward-thinking approach and attention to detail. Details that others tend to overlook.

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Being short-sighted in branding, as well
as in life, is as avoidable a shortcoming as poor manners at a formal
dining engagement. How widespread is this epidemic? Look at these “famous last
words” and you be the judge.

  • “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
    -Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
  • “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and
    talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing
    is a fad that won’t last out the year.” -The editor in charge of
    business books for Prentice Hall, 1957

  • “But what… is it good for?” -Commenting on the microchip, an
    engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968

  • “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their
    home.” -Ken Olson, President, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment
    Corp., 1977

  • “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously
    considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no
    value to us.” -Western Union internal memo, 1876

  • “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value.
    Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” -David
    Sarnoff’s associates, in response to his urging for investment in the
    radio during the 1920s

  • “The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to
    earn better than a ‘C,’ the idea must be feasible.” -A Yale University
    management professor, in response to Fred Smith’s paper proposing
    reliable overnight delivery service (Smith went on to found Federal
    Express Corp.).

  • “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” -H.M. Warner, Warner
    Brothers, 1927

  • “A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research
    reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies
    like you make.” -Response to Debbi Fields’ idea of starting Mrs. Fields’
    Cookies

  • “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way
    out.” -Decca Recording Company, rejecting the Beatles, 1962

  • “If I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have done the
    experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can’t do
    this.” -Spencer Silver, on the work that led to the unique adhesives for
    3-M “Post-It” Notepads

  • “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing
    thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about
    funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our
    salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went
    to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t
    got through college yet.” -Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs, on
    attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s
    personal computer

  • “You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development
    across all of your muscles? It can’t be done. It’s just a fact of life.
    You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an
    unalterable condition of weight training.” -Response to Arthur Jones,
    who solved the “unsolvable” problem by inventing Nautilus

  • “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” -Charles
    H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899

  • “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” – Bill Gates, 1981

Curiosity killed complacency (not the cat)
Now, if the people responsible for the above achievements, breakthroughs or initiatives didn’t suspect that something was possible, they wouldn’t have looked for the results and life would have simply carried on as usual: same crap, different day.

In other words, breakthroughs occur because someone is looking. Someone suspects something is possible. Someone has a hunch. And unless you’re looking, you’ll miss it.

That’s the magic behind nearly every great creation or innovation. It’s the foundation of every great artist. Every great musician. Every great writer. And equally applies to every great marketer, visionary, dreamer, inventor and business person.

Getting it right: Priceless
I realized this today as I was approaching something with my own personal “slant” which would have eliminated seeing what was there. So, I noticed this, set it aside and just looked. Lo and behold, I found what I was supposed to be seeing did actually arrive just minutes later—simply because I was now looking.

It comes down to this. If you suspect something as a possibility, explore it. If you hear of something that it’s supposed to be a certain way (and it makes sense, or if it challenges you, you can still look, it won’t hurt to look), simply observe.

Check it out for yourself.

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In branding, I have found this insatiable curiosity quality to be vital.

That’s one of the reasons some clients don’t get the branding results they desire because they approach it half-heartedly or with skepticism and that is a handicap. It’s not the total answer but it is a key factor. Like running marketing by committee. These committees inevitably result in the blandest vanilla known to Man.

Or this: ever try to convince someone who had a completely fixed idea on what could be? Total disaster. They don’t budge. Neither does anything around them. Things are status quo.

Then take the same idea and present it to someone who is open to what’s possible. No fixed idea to try to persuade. Magic happens. Hmmmm…

Open channels
Simply look at the most celebrated brands and you’ll see someone at the top who was willing to look, suspected what could be, and then continued to look some more.

Happy branding.

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David Brier is the Chief Gravity Defyer of DBD International and can be reached at david@RisingAboveTheNoise.com Examples of the firm’s work can be seen at http://www.RisingAboveTheNoise.com

 

About the author

Brand identity expert, veteran designer, author, speaker and Fast Company expert blogger. He’s been written about in Forbes.com, INC and Fortune Small Business.

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