Steve Jobs: Connecting the Dots
Steve Jobs was clearly a brilliant innovator, but what set him apart from other great technology pioneers was his ability to distribute, market, and monetize that innovation on an unprecedented scale. Though Jobs always evangelized great products as the foundation of Apple’s success, it was his inordinate ability to simplify complex ecosystems that has been paramount to the commercial success of Apple products.
Simple Can be Harder than Complex
“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.” – Steve Jobs 1998
There is no better example of this then the App Store. In a customer's buying decision for an iPhone or an iPad, the App Store is at the front and center of the value proposition. The backend complexity of delivering an integrated storefront experience on a mobile device (from application discovery, to purchase, to delivery, to billing) is no easy task. Jobs was at the forefront of driving the vision for a simplified, seamless experience for mobile users to access premium digital content, while simultaneously creating an ecosystem where application developers could easily monetize these transactions.
The success of the App Store has been astounding with over 350,000 apps available today, over 10 billion downloads, and a cumulative $2 billion sent to developers for apps sold in the App Store. Interestingly, before the introduction of the App Store, the complexity of completing a mobile transaction was often considered a greater inhibitor to the propensity to purchase then the cost of the transaction, which further strengthens the argument that much of the commercial success of the App Store can be tightly tied to the very concept of simplicity. Former Apple CEO, John Scully, once said of Jobs, “He’s a minimalist and constantly reducing things to their simplest level… He simplifies complexity.”
Control the Vision, Own the Ecosystem
In order for Jobs to maintain control of his vision he believed strongly in end-to-end ecosystems and, in particular, that the integrated hardware + software approach is superior to the approach of a common software platform crossing disparate hardware providers. In contrast to many of Apple’s competitors, which have focused on select pieces of the value chain (and outsourcing everything else), Jobs advocated comprehensive ownership, not simply to maximize margins but, more importantly, to maintain Apple’s high standards of quality across the full supply chain. Recent industry developments, such as Google’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility and Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, are increasingly validating the integrated approach as the more attractive long-term model.
Products Speak for Themselves, but Perception Drives Reality
Jobs has often downplayed the importance of advertising and public relations in interviews but it is no secret that Jobs was the mastermind behind Apple’s marketing brilliance. John Scully has said the concept of making Apple a ‘product marketing’ company was discussed quite frequently in Apple’s early years: “We talked often about how perception leads reality and if you are going to create a reality you have to be able to create the perception… a high level of perception of expectation will sort of tease people to want to find out what the product is capable of”. Clearly, Jobs had a perspective that always started with the product, but it was his unique view of defining the ‘user experience’ that separated him from the pack. Jobs viewed the user experience as the full end-to end journey, from marketing, advertising and discovery, to user interaction with the physical product.
The profound impact that Jobs has had on technology, business, and marketing has been unprecedented and unlikely to be replicated anytime soon. Jobs has been called everything from a visionary to a creative genius. He often downplayed his iconic status:
“Creativity is just connecting dots. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new ideas… Unfortunately, that’s a rare commodity. A lot of people haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions...” –Steve Jobs
So for future visionaries, some dots worth pondering: 1) Focus on Simplicity 2) Control the Vision, Own the Ecosystem; 3) Products Speak for Themselves, but Perception Drives Reality…