1) Does your hardware say wow? If there is one thing I have learned from Jobs and company it’s that if hardware doesn’t way “WOW” you may as well not bring it out onto the market. In other words, when Microsoft released the Zune and HP released its tablet, both companies should have known they were doomed for failure.
Perhaps my favorite headline pertaining to this issue was written by me - Intel Touts Durability While Apple Uses Glass.
Speaking of laptops – I am personally getting embarrassed pulling out a Dell laptop which makes other CEOs snicker as they pull out lighter-than-air Apple laptops. BTW, it isn’t because I am a self-conscious person – these CEOs actually tease me in meetings.
Just how many more years does the ugly Microsoft-based laptop have left?
2) Integrated hardware/software is key. A number of year’s back I visited Microsoft’s Redmond campus and was impressed with their next-gen solutions – much of them had very cool interfaces which consisted of swiping documents here and there to get them to the right place. They also had some innovative hardware ideas which allowed a mouse to jump from PC to phone in a seamless fashion – as if all your computers were connected. But when I asked why these solutions weren’t on the market the answer was – we are a software company – the hardware companies have to make these things.
The problem is it seems the vision to try new things and create new markets doesn’t exist in traditional PC markets where manufacturers are more focused on keeping razor-thin margins high than they are on innovating and taking risk.
3) Be too cool for school (mild profanity in this Zoolander link). Last week – just before Hurricane Irene came to town, we got a visit from the people at simplyCT, a virtual contact center solutions provider and their branding screamed “cool.” If this relatively new company can design a cool look which is consistent from their website to business cards to physical bookmarks they hand out, why can’t Lenovo do the same? Of course they can.
4) Put faith in the visionary. If you want to destroy your company’s future – second-guess your visionaries. Obviously you need as good visionary for this to be a sound strategy but if you let accounting and legal nitpick every decision trading off long-term branding and strategy for quarterly profits, you and your shareholders will regret it. An example of what I am talking about here is companies looking to imitate Apple’s design successes with cheap plastic inserts.
5) The 3-year old test. My three-year-old was able to navigate and understand the photo interface on an iPhone without training. This is the goal for all software – make it easy enough for a toddler to use and understand. Imagine trying to accomplish this goal on a PC-based laptop – you’d lose an hour just explaining how GIF files don’t work with all apps but if you bring them into the photo conversion utility and save them as JPEG (be sure to pick the right one, deciding between JPG and JPEG) to the right directory (no, you can’t use punctuation in a filename because of legacy DOSD – what’s DOS? – never mind).
6) Rethink. This last idea is perhaps the simplest and most complex at once. Lots of companies tried to sell computers directly through stores – Gateway comes to mind as a flaming failure. But Apple, a late entrant rewrote the rules and was successful. In fact their clean look is being imitated widely. What rules are left to be rewritten? Probably a great many.
These are just some of the things we have learned from visionary turned failure turned visionary in entertainment and computing and just about everything he has touched, Steve Jobs. He has rewritten not just the rules of computing but of business, supply chains, retail and so many markets and ecosystems it is scary. The goal of every CEO should be just to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Jobs and hopefully some of these observations will put you well on the path of becoming the most respected CEO in history.