The tech world has been exploding with news the last couple of weeks. First Google announced its intentions to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, then HP shut down it’s mobile hardware division and announced potential plans to spin off its PC business. I felt unsurprised by Google’s acquisition and disappointed by the almost certain demise of WebOS but then the big news came. Steve Jobs resigned and, although he will still serve as Chairman of the Board, will not be leading Apple again. It is the end of an era to be sure, but I do not want to eulogize Jobs. I would rather just mention two things about Apple’s behavior over the last decade that I believe are indicative of Steve Job’s leadership.
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
Apple has achieved enormous success by pushing into new markets and making devices that may not be first but define a market. The fact that they’re not afraid to eat away at their desktop/laptop sales a bit with mobile devices is evidence of this. They have repeatedly outmanuevered the competition by not being content with their traditional revenue streams. It forces the rest of the industry to play catch-up when they should be innovating themselves.
I play soccer pretty regularly with some friends and have noticed something that might illustrate my point. If you watch any soccer game you will probably notice the same thing. The losing team is often the team that plays on their own half most. Defense is certainly important but if you play defense more than you play offense you will lose because the opponent will have more shots on goal.
Apple’s willingness to disrupt themselves and everyone else is indicative of an offensive attitude by their leadership. They certainly make defensive moves as well—patent portfolio—but they spend more time on the other team’s half.
In every project—design, web, product, whatever—there needs to be an opinionated and outspoken advocate for the user. This is what I think Steve Jobs has been. Some have characterized Apple as an autocratic empire, but the realities of bringing a polished product to market require intense collaboration and cooperation. Thousands of designers, engineers, manufacturing workers, marketers and more touch each product as it makes its way to the user. In this vast chain it is easy to compromise and lose focus. This is why it is essential to have someone with authority advocating for the end user, not their department or themselves. Many companies do not have such advocates and it is easy to see in their products.
I wish Steve Jobs well and am confident that Apple will continue to be the Apple we have seen succeed. Offensive strategies and intense focus are not the only two things we can take away from his example, but it’s a start.