One of Apple’s standout innovations in retail, from my perspective, is the ability to checkout with any Apple store employee using their mobile device. Sometime around March of last year I asked on Quora why Apple was the only major retailer, even years after introducing this method, to employ it.
Yesterday I noticed a photo in the paper demonstrating a mobile checkout device (looks like an iPhone or iPod doesn’t it?) being used at Nordstrom. I assume that Nordstrom won’t be the only retailer to pick up the mobile checkout system going forward.
Innovations come in all shapes and sizes, and in all industries. And sometimes it takes years for new ideas to take root, but that doesn’t make them any less powerful as agents of change.
Last month I linked to one of many blogger reviews of the Steve Jobs biography claiming that, in the end, the book does not offer a very revealing portrait of what made Jobs special.
Over my holiday vacation I’ve had the chance to cruise through a good two thirds of the biography myself, and I have to disagree with that assessment.
Some of the criticism leveled at the book, both in the review I linked to and in other places, tends to focus on how Isaacson got a few details wrong like what clothing Jobs wore to which Macworld, or the position of menu bars in the Mac interface. It’s probably worth remembering that the book was rushed to publication (skipped ahead by a few months) due to the timing of Jobs death.
I don’t actually get the impression that Jobs could have been summed up as a “self-absorbed, immature, emotionally unstable control-freak.” I get the impression that his attitudes did change over the course of his life, and I think there are some good hints as to what made Jobs Jobs.
I have to finish the book – but as a short list of already interesting tidbits that I remember:
- Jobs regarded himself more as an artist than as a businessman, and made business decisions the way a sculptor would make decisions about their work.
- Jobs won a lot of concessions/agreements from people simply by being persistent.
- Jobs “reality distortion field” was learned from a guy named Robert Friedland. The most interesting part of that sentence is the wort “learned.”
A Forbes review of the new book “Fixing The Game” eviscerates the idea of setting corporate behavior by the goals of maximizing shareholder value:
“We must shift the focus of companies back to the customer and away from shareholder value,” says Martin. “The shift necessitates a fundamental change in our prevailing theory of the firm… The current theory holds that the singular goal of the corporation should be shareholder value maximization. Instead, companies should place customers at the center of the firm and focus on delighting them, while earning an acceptable return for shareholders.”
You don’t put a dent in the universe by managing market expectations. Great, world-changing businesses are built on conceiving and providing great products and services, and the stock price will follow.
Certainly that’s Jeff Bezos’s philosophy, starting from his first letter to shareholders in 1997, and I think it’s worked out pretty well for them, so far.
There is a classic book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion,” which examines seven classic psychological “tricks” for influencing people and their behaviors, one of which is the principle of reciprocity. If you think about it for a second, you’re all probably familiar with this one: if you give someone a gift, even only a token, you activate in that person a need to reciprocate in some way.
Taking advantage of, or ignoring those kinds of implied relationships that are created all day every day between people in business and life can turn in to a very effective way to get ahead: by preying on the social expectations of others. I am not a psychologist, but I believe this is also (in some forms) called being a sociopath.
If a friend shares a great idea that they’re working on, you could take it and run with it, for example. My boss tends to call this doing things that are “legal but not moral,” and there’s a wide range of examples in the history of successes like Facebook and Microsoft.
So is sociopathy an effective component of putting a dent in the universe? Probably. Is it a necessary component?
About forty years ago a “charismatic engineer with a creative vision matched only by his skill at self-promotion,” together with his brilliant technical business partner, launched from a trade show a unique technology product that went on to spawn an entire industry.
I’m talking, of course, about Nolan Bushnell, the co-founder of Atari and creator of the world’s first coin-operated arcade video game: Computer Space.
Technologizer (which might be TIME magazine, but I’m not really sure) recently posted a profile on Bushnell and the creation of “Computer Space,” which is a fascinating story with, as you can tell, some obvious parallels to other notable success stories.
One of the parallels I noticed is that Bushnell’s first video game creation was in fact not an entirely original game. It was modeled after the action game “Spacewar!” – which was created on MIT’s own computer systems in 1962 by programmers at MIT. Bushnell first encountered it in 1964, and essentially reproduced it in 1971 for mass production as “Computer Space.”
This aligns with Malcolm Gladwell’s (criticized) “tweaker” version of Steve Jobs. It certainly hints at the fact that there’s more to the process of denting the universe than coming up with an idea, and in fact coming up with an idea may not even be necessary.
Rather, it’s the ability to successfully force an idea into the restrictions of reality – in the case of Bushnell, he was able to make a commercially viable computer game before anyone else by leaving out the computer.