The Origin Story of a Transformative Idea

The late Steve Jobs is one of the prominent inventors and pioneers in the field of information technology.  Some of his creations such as the iPhone speak highly of his vision in recognizing technologies of the future.  By introducing products such as the iPhone, he took Apple Computers to new heights through its exceptional performance and features. It is interesting to study the origin and development of a mass phenomenon like the iPhone in the backdrop of Malcolm Gladwell’s and Steven Johnson’s ideas on the subject. The rest of the essay attempts to tie in the ideas of these two scholars into how Apple products came into being and how their appeal spreads among consumers.

The late Steve Jobs is one of the prominent inventors and pioneers in the field of information technology.  Some of his creations such as the iPhone speak highly of his vision in recognizing technologies of the future.  By introducing products such as the iPhone, he took Apple Computers to new heights through its exceptional performance and features. It is interesting to study the origin and development of a mass phenomenon like the iPhone in the backdrop of Malcolm Gladwell’s and Steven Johnson’s ideas on the subject. The rest of the essay attempts to tie in the ideas of these two scholars into how Apple products came into being and how their appeal spreads among consumers.Apple Computers adopts a culture of innovation which is the key to their success. This is best exemplified by the company’s attitude towards some of its main rivals. Take say Microsoft, which spends upwards of three years and millions of dollars to release new upgrades to its flagship operating system software. Though Microsoft has a near monopoly when it comes to OS software and has loads of resources to splurge on its research, the news of a new upgrade or a new release hardly excites consumers.  There is almost a feeling of ennui or product fatigue with respect to the Windows line of versions.  It is ironic that the world’s most powerful software firm, with unmatched resources at its disposal, and no significant competition to talk of, takes years in delivering a product that their own marketing campaign terms as a ‘tune-up’ to the earlier versions. This is where Apple Computers’ philosophy of product origination becomes distinct. Despite being in the doldrums during the 1990s, the company has managed to risen from the ashes, merely as a result of its product excellence. It is quite clear that companies with little to no competition, such as Microsoft “tend to deliver solid but stodgy products.” (Laurent Belsie, 1998) Companies in a free-for-all, such as Apple, on the other hand, can only survive through innovation. Not only does Apple prices its products competitively but it also uses its own indigenous microchips, “which run graphics software much faster than even the newest and most expensive alternatives.” (Laurent Belsie, 1998)

One of Malcolm Gladwell’s famous assertions in the book The Tipping Point is that “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do”. (p.25) Gladwell equates the birth and progress of social movements to that of epidemics. Considering that the popularity of Apple products are mostly based on word-of-mouth publicity, its dynamics are similar to that of epidemics.  One of the features of this process is the ‘law of the few’, whereby 80% of the work is done by 20% of the participants. In the case of Apple the creative energies spent on the initial stages of the product’s development take up bulk of focus and resources. Moreover, it is the small team of designers and product architects who have the greatest impact on the success of the product. To this extent Gladwell’s observation is true vis-à-vis Apple. Further, he deems it necessary to have charismatic leadership for the sustenance of mass phenomenon. He posits that these leaders with “a particular and rare set of social gifts” will take up responsibility for 80% of the work. (Bush, 2013, p.38) This is very true of Apple, for much of the key innovations is the brainchild of a few individuals working for the company – Jobs being the foremost among them.

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