We both find Steve Jobs a very inspirational figure. OSX and the iPod are truly amazing products for their innovation and simplicity. This Businessweek interview with Jobs captures a fundamental truth in a pithy answer about how businesses stop innovating, and describes much of what I experienced about Microsoft causing me to leave:
People always ask me why did Apple really fail for those years, and it’s easy to blame it on certain people or personalities. Certainly, there was some of that. But there’s a far more insightful way to think about it. Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That’s a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly.
But after that, the product people aren’t the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It’s the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what’s the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself?
So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM (IBM ) is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t.
Q: Is this common in the industry?
A: Look at Microsoft (MSFT ) — who’s running Microsoft?
Q: Steve Ballmer.
A: Right, the sales guy. Case closed. And that’s what happened at Apple, as well.
Making great products is the most important driving force. We’ve always said the money will follow — maybe not Microsoft money, but the kind of money that will allow us to keep making great products. So far that has proven to be true, and we are slowly moving to a place where our primary customer will be actual people who use our software, rather than advertisers, so that we can continue to build great products for individuals instead of marketers.
Jobs also mentioned how the “Think Different” marketing campaign was as much for Apple to remember who its heroes are, as it was for advertising. Isn’t it important to know who your hereos are in order to be inspired at your own job?