January 11, 2007
News & Opinion: iRapture
Mea culpa: I am one of the pod people, an invadee of the body snatchers, when it comes to the mass hysteria surrounding the iPhone. To me this is not a story about an insanely great $500 cel phone cum music player; Jobs’s landmark keynote signaled an event of huge business consequence. More than a shiny new toy, more than the buzziest product of the decade, more than a business tool with ginormous cultural cachet; this iPhone blows me away in the following ways. First of all, Apple has done what few other companies ever achieve, which is to introduce a product that is so far beyond any other existing comparables that it literally redefines the category. I can’t think of any other product that so completely defies an existing industry mindset by proving to the incumbents that it can win customer love, when the prevailing attitude is tolerance at best and pure hatred as the norm. Second, this new product isn’t one new thing. It’s a good two dozen. The touch-screen technology, the way the music fades when the phone rings, the accelerometer which turns the screen from portrait to landscape when you rotate the device, the ability to manipulate data with your fingertips, and so very much more. The shiny salivation/salvation of this product resides in the cumulative genius of all these elements working in concert. More than any one awesome trick, they create a user experience that promises to be as delightful as it is simple and intuitive. Third, the sheer organizational fortitude required to actually deliver that tiny tool into Jobs’ hands is massive. For Apple to be able to come up with the innovations, commercialize them with this product, while keeping the process and product a secret, are all awesome feats. To do all of them is awesome to the nth. Why gush on this blog? Because we are all about business ideas, and an event of this significance just can’t be ignored. It got me wondering what business books are the most relevant. And, to be honest, the event serves as somewhat of a humbling experience. When you look at the list of business books we’ve touted over the past months, very few come to mind that have deep relevance to this story. And, well, just as the genius of Apple has always been the way that it presents brilliant technology as a simple intuitive interface, I believe that one huge takeaway from yesterday’s event was the way that so many important business lessons served as underlying technology for the event. I can’t think of one single reference to a business book that Steve Jobs has read (unlike, say Bill Gates, who has written his own, and famously touted Alfred Sloan’s My Years With General Motors in the past.) So here’s a simple exercise. Imagine that you are competing with Steve Jobs. Where would you go for the best wisdom? Here are a few books that seem relevant to me in terms of capturing some of the principles that led up to the iPhone: Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things for insights into the way that elegant design wordlessly and effortlessly focuses the user on the best experience. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan’s Execution for insights and affirmation about the primacy of execution; and Scott Berkun’s excellent (and, by the way, worthy of much more love and attention!) The Art of Project Management for, well, the art of project management. William Manchester’s three-volume The Last Lion biography of Winston Churchill for insights on charismatic leadership and big goals. My Turn At Bat by Ted Williams with John Underwood: another great biography about the rewards which accrue to a stubborn passion for nothing less than being the very best one can be. I’d like to cite three more books: one that identifies how to execute strategy that completely redefines an industry (while being based on an incremental platform of new products). And a book that explores how everything changes when the web is not merely available everywhere, but, when the iPhone arrives, finally appealing to use anywhere. And finally, a great book on the Apple corporate culture. But....the titles just don't come to mind. What are other people’s thoughts, and nominations for this list?