Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Big 5 lessons from Apple's success

Eye-popping sales figures... Industry-shaping technological prowess... Mind-numbing financial strength

What a tremendous success it has been! The Apple juggernaut has trounced all pundits' expectations, steam-rolled all competition into pulp, gatecrashed into the 'PC' market with unquantifiable fury, and totally destroyed all existing business models in its industry.

It is a heart-warming story for those who have followed (the late) Steve Jobs' life and times.

It is a detestable nightmare for the likes of HP, Dell, Microsoft, RIM, Nokia and Google.

It is grand fodder for case-studies that are being churned from leading b-schools portals.

But what is it that's made this amazing success possible? Can it be replicated by Apple itself in the future, or by anyone else? How far can Apple really go? Will it end sometime?

Here is my analysis of the Big 5 lessons from Apple's decade of uncontrolled steam-rolling, left-right-and-centre!

1. Mega success is a unique template
Really big successes - where companies trample everyone else and romp home with full glory - are almost always based on unique business models. There is nothing "standardisable" about such models except the underlying features - genuinely unique disruptive models, firm belief in what the company is trying to achieve, and a loyal fan base. So Apple's model of success just cannot get replicated by someone else. Students of management will remind us of the commoditisation phenomenon, rightly. But other than that, corporate history teaches us that such "repeats" by someone else is almost impossible. Just check out the stories of Microsoft, GE, WalMart, McDonalds, Dell, and Google to get a feel. In each of these cases, no one could repeat their business models with similar success rates.


2. Mega success won't get repeated
Even if Apple wants to repeat the same success story from scratch, chances are it won't be able to. The customers would have changed by then, their tastes would have evolved, the whole set of external conditions will have become novel and different. So the same products just won't work at all. Hence the same model is ruled out. (Yes, they may try new products, but Apple is so much defined by its unique products (of today) that a new set of products will almost mean a new business model).

(if you feel that 2 is the same as 1 above, please read again)

3. New Star is always in the offing
"All empires collapse eventually". The good news is no single player will dominate any segment forever. That is nature's check against monopoly and destructive domination. It is certain that a new player is sitting somewhere is some garage chiselling a bullet with "Apple" written on it. And the bullet will be fired for sure. Those who find it difficult to digest will do well to remember the disdain with which rumours of RIM's fall or HP's inability to face Apple's iPad onslaught were received just a few years ago. In 2007, it was considered heresy to even suggest that some company could dare challenge HP's PC-laptop monopoly. In 2004, it was inconceivable that the multi-models business strategy of Nokia could ever go wrong. 

So it will be with Apple. The fact that technology moves forward with great pace, and with no fidelity towards any particular shade of capital, is a sobering reminder that the bullet may appear from anywhere! Apple may not "die down"... its multi-billion dollar horde of cash stashed in banks can turn it into a safe financier of dreams for generations to come. But that won't be the Apple we know, and respect.

4. "Future predictions" are the best bullshit conceivable
The painful thing about human life is that predictions are impossible to make with certainty. In a sense, this is what makes life so interesting - what would we do if we knew our date of departure? But in business, leaders are always desperate to take a peek into the crystal ball and latch on to any shred of news/analysis that can throw light on the future with some certainty. However, one lesson we can learn from the past 20 years of corporate-watching - "Take every pundit's predictions with a bag-full of salt. Most likely, she is going to be proven totally wrong by the future." For any CEO, saying anything with certainty should be perhaps restricted to a couple of quarters, or at the most a full year. Not more! 

Talking of uncertainty - let's not forget that even scientific basis of the fundamental particle electron is just a probability cloud. Only the Protons are surely in the nucleus.

No one - NO ONE - can predict the future. That's how the wonderfully woven strands of uncertainty define our space-time. That's why God always smiles in his heaven. Because He(She) knows for sure that the interplay of globalisation, technology and mankind's ambitions make a potent unpredictable mixture.

5. Personality cults are still the best bet - they will remain so
Salaam, o sailor!
Companies make products for human beings. Even petfood is purchased by humans, and not dogs. And humans always will remain emotional beings. So it is logical to assume that humans will always be impressed by role models who are worth emulating. Steve Jobs was definitely the most maverick role model - his Stanford speech proved it. It is a grand mistake to assume that companies and products cannot do well if personality cults are used to promote them. It is an equally grand mistake to assume that companies can forever keep using personality cults to sell with the same vigour - people are mortal, period. (either by age, or by talent)

So what's the best way? Well, a matter of choice. Apple chose Steve's cult to base its entire appeal on (they may not say so, but ask any fanboi and you will know!) 

A question entrepreneurs ask me in training sessions is : "Sandeep, should we build our company's brand or our own?" This blogpost should help them get the answe.


Business is so interesting ... just see it from the human lens. It's amazing!

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7 comments:

STC Technologies said...

I am a big apple fans.

pratik said...

the last line is that best of all ..... really, "Duniya ka subse bada nasha - "RISK" ...

akshta sethi said...

Great articulation.A very inspiring story and lesson for budding and aspiring entrepreneurs.If entering in IT market one should always keep in mind the need and craze for new innovative products.

sonimayank007 said...

Tremendous article. Analysis of enhancing chance of success is given for a business model. Comparison of Steve Jobs' innovative ideas with the rest of the big empires is given.The lessons we can get from this inspiring journey of Apple are :

1) Any business model of a company can't be fully adopted by another company.
2) Any company can't get same degree of success with the same old model, innovation and creative ideas and business model leads to success.
3) There is no pre-warning of the crash of an business model. Until and unless you perform one step ahead from the rest of the world, you can't reduce the chance of collapse of your empire.
4)there is Future prediction in the corporate world. Any day a strong wind can destroy you Castle of the cards.
5)Human beings are emotional beings, they can be easily molded into your favor if you get success in impressing them by role models.

- MAYANK SONI

sonimayank007 said...

Tremendous article. Analysis of enhancing chance of success is given for a business model. Comparison of Steve Jobs' innovative ideas with the rest of the big empires is given.The lessons we can get from this inspiring journey of Apple are :

1) Any business model of a company can't be fully adopted by another company.
2) Any company can't get same degree of success with the same old model, innovation and creative ideas and business model leads to success.
3) There is no pre-warning of the crash of an business model. Until and unless you perform one step ahead from the rest of the world, you can't reduce the chance of collapse of your empire.
4)there is Future prediction in the corporate world. Any day a strong wind can destroy you Castle of the cards.
5)Human beings are emotional beings, they can be easily molded into your favor if you get success in impressing them by role models.

Prashant Tripathi said...

Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Prediction, Game Play, Imagery, Cult Figures and successful Business Models all in one.
What we see helps us learn and eventually leads to innovation. Uncertainty plays a vital role in deciding who to survive and who to perish. No market pundit has ever dreamed of Apple emerging the way it has in Electronics industry. Apple, with its undefinable and hidden strategy, proved itself to be unbeatable macbook, ipod, ipad manufacturer and profit gainer. None of the companies which had their major share in this sector could restrict Apple from capturing the market. What made Apple rise so significantly? Was that Steve Jobs' prevision or effort of its employees or unique business model or fan base? Rather it was everything. Each thing contributed to building Apple and helped it regain its original position in market. But major question arises is whether Apple itself would be able to ape the strategy implemented by Steve Jobs in near future? Will it again be able to capture market if its slips down due to some newer technologies? As a matter of fact, no one can predict future. No one is aware if somewhere in any corner of this Big world another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs is working tirelessly to give birth to some new technology which could surpass existing ones. Repeating successful models is not possible because customer's mindset changes, market changes and nevertheless, technology and competitors changes. If prediction of future events gets possible, no one would be interested in business as business' base is unpredictability. Never to dream of future, work hard on present aspects, that will bore results (favorable or unfavorable). Another feature that might have helped Apple climb ladder of success would that be of Steve Jobs' personality exposure to world. Cult figures often support business to flourish but they don't remain forever beneficial. Reason being very simple: Man in mortal, it has to die, same is with market strategies. To make business immortal, innovative ideas are to be implemented as generation changes, so there very demands.
Entrepreneurs should search for options that suits them, should always follow their unflagging conscience, should learn from failures and successes of other models and should endeavor its dreams of making it big.
Business is like life, live it and make efforts to raise standards.

reema jain said...

Steve Jobs was always described as an innovator and a visionary rightly so.

Over the years, many people have looked up to Steve Jobs as a source of inspiration
The ten best inspirational quotes by the man himself:

1. At an Apple product event for the first Macintosh computer on January 24, 1984: "We're gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make "me, too" products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it's always the next dream."

2. In Playboy magazine in February 1985: "If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you've done and whoever you were and throw them away."

3. At the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, May 1997: "I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."

4. Talking about work at the Stanford University's Commencement address on June 12, 2005: "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle."

5. Apple at the Stanford University's Commencement Speech 2005: "I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.[...] It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith."

6. Steve Jobs gave an interview in "60 minutes" in 2003 in which he shared that his business model was inspired by The Beatles: "My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person, they are done by a team of people."

7. In an interview to BusinesWeek in 1998: "That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains."

8. In a statement to The New York Times, 2003: "[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."

9. On being the richest man in an interview to The Wall Street Journal in 1993 "Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me... Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful... that's what matters to me."

10. Talking about Death at the Stanford University commencement speech, June 2005: "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. ... Stay hungry. Stay foolish."
i really can't imagine how dexterous his mind would be ....
i think every quote says that no one can be so visionary in my thinking how can anyone design such wonderful products.He is the real proven entrepreneur.In one line i can say he is tremendous innovator...
Thank you
sandeep sir