As Apple Computer’s evangelist for the Macintosh, Guy Kawasaki was one of the driving forces behind a revolutionary product. As a high-tech marketing pioneer, he has been advising companies about another revolution: the rise of the Internet. Now comes “Rules for Revolutionaries” — a book based on the proposition that to take on the establishment, you have to play by different rules.
This “capitalist manifesto” is packed with colorful examples and with earthy advice from break-the-rules players in various industries and disciplines. Kawasaki borrows from a diverse group of visionaries, including sculptor Constantin Brancusi and “one-to-one marketing” guru Don Peppers, and fills his text with lively, open-ended exercises. The result is a must-read manual for change-minded businesspeople.
Create Like a God
Kawasaki’s first rule doesn’t fall far from Apple’s tree. If you want to make a revolution, he argues, you have to start by unleashing revolutionary products. You have to “create like a God” — and that requires you to “think different.” According to Kawasaki, such breakthrough thinking is less serious than deep contemplation and less silly than “sitting in a beanbag chair squirting colleagues with water pistols.” “The key,” he writes, “is how you are thinking about a problem for a long time.”
Only a revolutionary thought process could have produced the concept behind MCA’s Universal Studios Florida. MCA combined theme (movies) and thrill (rides) to create “Come ride the movies.” It also broke with what Kawasaki describes as Disney’s de facto code for how to run a theme park: “Be nice, gentle, and politically correct.”
But thinking different is just the first step. Business revolutionaries also have to keep rethinking — and just as important, they have to keep doing. Which points to the driving concern of Kawasaki’s book: How do you turn radical ideas into profitable companies?
Command Like a King
The essence of turning big ideas into real companies is recognizing that leadership is as much about staying power as it is about starting lines. For Apple’s Macintosh division, that was a hard lesson to learn. After building a machine that changed the industry, the Mac team realized that “revising the revolution wouldn’t be nearly as fun as creating it.” By contrast, Microsoft has always excelled at “churning” — at responding to market demand in order to outperform and outsell its competitors. Case in point: the company’s relentless upgrading of Windows.
Churning derives inspiration from the mantra “Fail quickly, but last long.” It means admitting that your product is less than perfect, it means banishing arrogance, and it means attending to mundane details — each of which is counterintuitive behavior at most companies. But perhaps the biggest barrier to positive churning is the propensity of most companies to stick with what’s working.
“Any (living) soldier will tell you, ‘The easy way is mined,’ ” writes Kawasaki. “The easy way is a death magnet too. . . . Death magnets in business [are] the traditional habits and patterns of thinking that continue to seduce companies.” The land mines inside companies include these familiar sentiments: “Budget is king.” “Our product sucks less.” “Our brand is a hunting license.”
In other words, one of the most dangerous enemies of revolution can be your own company. The best way to defeat that enemy, Kawasaki argues, is to ignore it. The history of innovation is riddled with smug assessments and dire predictions: In 1943, IBM Chairman Thomas Watson declared, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” Fred Smith received a C on the economics term paper in which he introduced the hub-and-spoke concept that he later used to create Federal Express. And even Kawasaki had his own nay-saying moment. When asked if he had any interest in interviewing for the job of CEO at Yahoo!, he responded, “It’s too far a commute. And how can you make a business out of a search engine?”
Work Like a Slave
Revolutions can be thrilling, inspiring, and exhausting. If they are to become enduring, though, they also have to be disciplined. Kawasaki draws on two seemingly silly facts from the animal kingdom to illustrate the kind of discipline that supports innovation: Hummingbirds, he says, eat the equivalent of 50% of their weight every day; and elephants poop at the rate of 165 pounds per day. The “avarian principles of eating” illustrate one aspect of revolutionary behavior: a relentless search for knowledge about your industry, your customers, and your competitors. That search requires unconventional information-gathering habits. For example, revolutionaries always “leave the important stuff to amateurs.” Marketing professionals tend to miss subtle cues about human behavior (such as the tendency of women to shop for cars with their kids in tow, or to make cup holders the first thing they look for in a car) that lead to breakthrough products and cutting-edge services. The “principles of pooping,” meanwhile, point to another aspect of revolutionary behavior: a dedication to spreading knowledge and to sharing discoveries.
There’s one last aspect to working like a slave. If revolutionaries develop no other skills, they must learn to “kick butt” — to stop saying things like “You have an interesting product, but…” Defeating “butt-headed thinking” means adhering to the fundamental principles of revolutionaries both past and present: Focus on customers, not on experts. Focus on promise and possibility, not on problems and perils. Always question authority. Never consider the battle to be lost. And finally, Kawasaki urges, remember that “the greatest role that life can bestow upon you is to be a revolutionary.”
Sidebar: Cheat Sheet
Too busy planning the revolution to read this book? Here’s a manifesto sampler to take to your next cell meeting.
Enemy of the revolution: “Status quo-perpetuating scumbags.” According to Kawasaki, you’re in danger of becoming one after you go from introducing a revolutionary product or service to developing an installed base that allows you to dominate your market.
Highbrow revolutionary influence: The sculptor Constantin Brancusi supplies the book’s epigram — and its organizing principles: “Create Like a God. Command Like a King. Work Like a Slave.”
Best Apple one-liner : “Mea culpa, we were arrogant and French (that is, led by Jean-Louis Gassee),” writes Kawasaki, referring to Apple’s fateful decision, made in 1987, against licensing the Macintosh operating system to other companies.
Best Microsoft one-liner: “Our nemesis, Microsoft (where quality is job 1.1) is excellent at churning. Windows started out far behind, but it moved faster. As a friend once told me, ‘He who hesitates is DOS.’ “
Best coinage: “Evangineer”: “a combination of evangelist and engineer: someone who wants to change the world and has the technical knowledge to do it”; the ideal revolutionary.
Sidebar: FC Recommends
We asked Guy Kawasaki to recommend some additional reading for revolutionaries.
Big Picture: “If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit,” by Brenda Ueland (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1938). Forget the word “write.” This book shows you how to do whatever it is that you do — free from feelings of mediocrity and from oppression by what I call “bozosity” (an affliction that makes people think they know something when they don’t — and that causes them to stifle innovation).
Best Practice: “Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born,” by Denise G. Shekerjian (Penguin USA, 1991). Learn from winners of the MacArthur Award. No squirt guns. No beanbag chairs. No off-sites. Just do it. And then keep doing it.
Sleeper: “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation,” by James M. Utterback (Harvard Business School Press, 1994). The best explanation of innovation and product development that I’ve ever read. The ice-harvesting story alone makes it worth reading.
Keeper: “The Effective Executive,” by Peter F. Drucker (Harper & Row, 1966). The title doesn’t have to be an oxymoron. This book was written more than three decades ago — but it’s even more relevant today. Read it and reap.