The Origin Story of a Transformative Idea

To fully comprehend Apple’s approach to new products we have to take a deeper look on their approach to design. Steve Jobs, more than anyone else in the organization, had been instrumental in inculcating the importance of design.  In common parlance Jobs described Apple’s designs as cool, clean and friendly.  The mantra of ‘Think Different’ is also at the core of creative processes in Apple. While many major corporations use design with the aim of bolstering bottom lines, Apple’s entire ethos was design. Even when Jobs was heading NeXT, the educational-computer company he founded, product and graphic design drove his strategy. He went so far as to “get special dispensation from IBM to commission the NeXT logo from Paul Rand, designer of the IBM, ABC, and Westinghouse logos.” (Heller, 2011) When Jobs rejoined Apple, he took this design philosophy to an altogether new level, profoundly impacting the nature of 21st century digital products.

Another of Steven Johnson’s concepts is applicable to the success of Apple products.  Johnson proclaims the importance of applying insights from parallel or allied fields of study to the problem at hand.  For example, an astrophysicist trying to solve a problem pertaining to inter-galactic matter may actually find a solution by looking into quantum mechanics.  The former deals with an expansive time-space paradigm whereas the latter seeks to understand the sub-atomic world.  Yet one could see how, despite the stupendous contrast in the dimension of space the two disciplines attempt to solve similar problems. In the modern corporate culture, young entrepreneurs often find the best operational models for their business ideas by studying examples from other industries. In the case of Steve Jobs, it is well known that the six month calligraphy course he took later helped in the visualization and design of Apple products.  Yet Jobs did not take the calligraphy course with the intent of improving his designs.  He took it out of developing his hobby and also to take a prolonged hiatus from work. One can see how the uniqueness of the software and hardware interfaces of Apple products are informed and shaped by the aesthetics of calligraphy. In this respect, Johnson’s idea stands vindicated. One could extend this observation to the more generic vision for the company and its brand.  For example, the foundation of Apple’s creative culture lay in its capacity for envisioning new devices and gadgets that competitors had not thought of – the iPhone being a prime example of this.  The device has changed the way we read books, listen to music, communicate through text and voice, or access the Internet on the go.  But what is standard and commonplace today was once unimaginable. The sense of experimentation and calculated risk-taking has paid rich dividends for Apple Computers, which has now created a unique specialized market for its products.

In conclusion, it is a fair claim that the success of Apple products is due to the company’s unique culture of innovation. But to credit the success of products like the iPhone and iPod with Steve Jobs alone would be misleading. Although Jobs was a technological pioneer and an inspirational leader, innovations did not happen in ‘eureka’ moments or through momentary insights. There is a lot of persistence and perseverance behind the development of each product. Each Apple product represents two ideas – one social and the other technological. It is through the synergistic combination of both that a strong loyal consumer base could be established.  This is the mantra of Apple’s success. By being able to anticipate future directions in technology and social interaction, the company is able to create products that have a niche consumer base. More importantly, instead of depending on chance moments of inspiration and insight, the company has cultivated a culture of innovation and experimentation.  In this atmosphere, creativity and experimentation are carried out for their own sake, serving as incubators for revolutionary new ideas.

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