Insanely Great Products

It looks to me as if Steve Jobs’ laser-like focus has become the buzzword business paradigm in the world. I must admit: the way the zen CEO axed the majority of Apple’s product lines in 1997 to save the company from bankruptcy was super impressive. Focus matters.

But the big question is: when is it the right time to focus? Because so many businesses are shooting themselves in the foot, trying to follow Jobs’ example.

The gist of the problem is this. If you have an insanely great product, you should go all in with focus. You should do what Jim Collins or Al Ries tell you to do. Get the right people on the bus. Identify your unique market and run with it.

This is all perfect advice, if you have a winner in your hands. But in the world that is changing as fast as it is, the odds are you don’t.

Your insanely great product might have been great in 2010. Now it’s just insane. Instead of putting all of your eggs in that basket, you should nix the damn thing altogether.

So what to do?

Creative process is an oscillation between two extremes: divergence and convergence.

Divergence means generating as much as you can, probably testing it with an audience and killing 99% of what you got early. It’s fail often, fail fast. Convergence means focus.

In a world like today’s, you cannot know what flies before you playtest it. In addition to failing often, failing fast, you should ship often. Then use a proper metric, see what sticks, and kill what doesn’t.

There is even a tried and tested fully divergent business model. Zen and Steve Jobs are not the only ways to generate a wicked profit. Just ask Richard Branson or Jack Welch. Both Virgin and GE rely on divergence: on shipping a massive offering, and sticking to what works. In a fast changing world, that’s often a smart strategy.

Most of the Steve Jobs wannabes don’t have a product that would resemble anything like what Apple’s got to offer. And I’m not talking about the iPhone here, not even the iMac that saved the company from disaster in the late 1990’s. Most of the Steve Jobs wannabes don’t even have an Apple II in their hands.

But if you do enough outings, enough playtesting, you might just have something in your hands. And when you do, THAT’S the time when you need to focus.

The beauty of the creative process is that it’s not one thing, but many. Like Linus Pauling said, the best way to get a great idea is to get many ideas.

First, do many things. Often you won’t get the right idea straight off the bat.

But when you know you have something that really lights up your eyes, focus.

After all, the world needs lots more insanely great products.


Apple, Tesla and Next Generation Marketing

How do you deliver a strong brand message?

About ten years ago I bought an iMac. It was one of those white plastic 17″ ones back in the day. A great computer, although this unit had some quality control issues. Through its lifetime I had to take it out for repairs at least three or four times.

When the computer was 4.5 years old, it wouldn’t start. I called Apple’s customer service and explained the situation. They asked me to, once again, service the device. I told them that this was the fourth or fifth time that the same device would be serviced, which was becoming a bit frustrating. The customer service person asked me to hold the line.

When he came back, he told me that I was correct and that his supervisor had authorized to swap the device. I was amazed, and explained that was this really ok, since the computer was so old. He said yes. The next problem I spotted was that at that point Apple didn’t carry the white iMacs anymore. The cheapest model was a flat 21″ aluminum iMac, which was about ten times the computer I had at the moment. This, too, was no problem.

I took the broken machine back to Apple. And I was completely blown away, when two days later a UPS courier rang my doorbell and delivered a brand new 21″ iMac to my home.

I have told this story dozens of times, and I am pretty sure that while Apple may have lost a few hundred dollars in replacing the machine, this kind of marketing advantage is worth more than a thousand printed ads.

A few days ago, I was even more blown away what a great product by great people can do. I mean the two comics that Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, drew of his Tesla car. The value of such a message is beyond calculation, what with The Oatmeal being super popular to begin with.

But this was topped off with Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s reaction. When Inman asked Musk for his help (with 8 million dollars to boot) in building a Tesla museum, what the super CEO tweeted in response was:

I would be happy to help.

People in marketing tend to occupy themselves with brand design, graphic desing, copywriting, typesetting and a gamut of different ways of communicating how cool a product is, whatever it is.

But what with the world being more and more networked, it seems there is a marketing methodology that blows all the Mad Men stuff out of the water.

This is already in my opinion the most powerful marketing methodology. It may well be on the way to becoming the paradigm for the next generation of marketing. And it’s really simple.


a) Be nice.
b) Build awesome things.