When Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson came out shortly after his death, plenty of folks snapped it up very quickly. I was a bit intimidated by its size, but I finally cracked it open last summer.
What I found was surprisingly not a fawning portrait of Apple’s visionary leader but instead a history of the tech industry wrapped in an honest, not-always-flattering biography.
It’s a great read for anyone interested in business, as it looks at what Apple — and Jobs — did differently than their competitors. Here are two major philosophical debates presented in the book.
Diversification vs. Single-Minded Focus
Apple operates at its best when it focuses on making a single product awesome. That’s how we got the iPhone, the iPod and the iPad — not to mention the last several renditions of desktops and laptops. When Jobs set his mind to something, whether it was developing the perfect glass for his stores or finding the brightest shade of white, he went at it with all his energy until it was exactly what he wanted.
The pros to this are clear, but the con is that if you’re focusing on only one thing, you’re not focusing on others. It’s what’s called the opportunity cost in economics, and it’s something Apple pays for from time to time. But it’s also how they reap awards — like having enough cash on hand to buy Amazon or build a space station.
What It Means For Your Business: Finding the right balance between these two can make or break your business. You want to focus on doing what you do best, but you also don’t want to miss out on related opportunities that fit your target market and at which you could excel. Setting up periodic, regular reviews to analyze and adjust as necessary is your best bet for striking that balance.
Licensing vs. Exclusivity
The biggest fork in the road between Apple and Microsoft came when Apple decided they would not license their technology to other PC builders. This allowed them to keep control of the quality of their brand — but it lost them a huge market share to Microsoft, as evidenced by the fact that you’ll still find PCs in most office buildings today. Apple began reclaiming some of the market in the mid-2000s, but they’ve obviously got a long way to go.
That being said, you won’t find a more loyal customer base than Mac users, and practically everyone owns at least one Apple product these days, whether it’s a low-end iPod Shuffle or a top-of-the-line iMac. PC users in general use PCs because that’s what they’ve been presented. It’ll be interesting to see in the next decade where things end up, especially as tablets cannibalize traditional computers.
What It Means For Your Business: For most businesses, this relates to a case of quality vs. availability, and once again it’s all about balance. Finding that sweet spot where you can provide the best product or service to the largest market without sacrificing the quality is what you’re aiming for. That might mean taking on fewer clients or producing fewer units until you can sustain your growth by expanding your resources. Again, setting up regular reviews is a great way to keep on top of your business’s needs and capabilities as it grows.
What to Take from Steve Jobs (the Biography)
I was truly fascinated by this book — both because of the journey Jobs took from college drop-out to worshipped tech leader and because of what we can learn about business from how he and others ran theirs.
It’s not the rambling fanboy letter I’d feared it would be (which I say despite being an obvious Apple fan). It’s an honest account of one man’s huge effect on both the tech industry and our day-to-day lives — and that’s no exaggeration. If you read it, you’ll see what I mean — and if you have read it, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments!
Software updates are a part of life in this day and age, but they don’t always have to be painful. Case in point: during a recent update to my favorite writing software, Scrivener, a known issue popped up during installation.
How Scrivener Did It Right
Instead of having to google the error, hunt down the solution, and then follow a lengthy list of instructions to delete the appropriate file, Scrivener walked me right through the entire process.
First, it notified me of the issue — and that there was a simple solution. Second, the program walked me through deleting a framework file on my Mac through a short series of prompts that were so well-designed that they included buttons to “Open Folder” rather than telling me to hunt for it. The entire process took about 10 seconds, and then the install completed successfully.
I already loved Scrivener, but making this process so easy made me love it even more.
Learning from Scrivener’s Customer Service Performance
Here’s what we can learn from Scrivener’s performance.
Do Your Research
It’s no accident that Scrivener programmed this solution right into the installation itself. I stay on top of updates, so there was no lag time to my knowledge between users being affected and the solution being provided.
If you’re getting ready to introduce a new product or service, run through as many scenarios as you can to ensure all your bases are covered and that you know how to handle issues if and when they pop up. Not even the big wig companies succeed at this all the time (ahem, Apple Maps, anyone?), but the better prepared you can be, the better.
Develop Solutions and Make Them Easy for Customers
If you do foresee problems — even minor ones — develop solutions and make them as easy as possible for your customers. Ignoring the problem and leaving the hunt for the fix to your customers is a surefire way to engender their frustration at best and to lose them entirely at worst.
However, showing your customers that you care by responding with correct, quick and easy-to-use solutions can actually improve your position.
Admit When You’re Wrong
Now, because Scrivener did everything right in this case study, I’m going to point to the Apple Maps issue again. When the product came out and users found it to be extremely subpar and sometimes even completely wrong, CEO Tim Cook responded quickly with an apology, a promise to do better, and recommendations for other apps to use in the meantime.
It was a bold move that Steve Jobs probably wouldn’t have made, to be honest, but it created goodwill within Apple’s already loyal user base. No person is perfect, and neither is any business, but we can all make strides to turn less than ideal situations into opportunities.
Effective Communication is Key
If you’ve got a public relations problem on your hands, it’s important to make sure you respond to your customers correctly. There are plenty of corporate social media horror stories out there, so it’s worth hiring a professional to help you tell your customers the right story when there’s a snafu.
If you need help responding to your customers via your website, blog, email or social media, I can help. Let’s chat about how we can work together to help you and your business keep your customers happy and loyal.
Here’s part two of my list of organization tools. This time, we’re talking mobile apps and hardware. If you missed it, we talked about web and software last week, so check out Part One here (and weigh in with your own recommendations!).
HomeRoutines: This is what I use to manage everything chore- and/or household-related. You can set daily task lists as well as morning, afternoon and evening routines. It also features weekly zones, where you focus on a given area of your home in a little more detail. It also has an overall to-do list for one-off items you need to keep track of. It’s a great way to keep on top of tasks on a daily basis.
MyFitnessPal: This is my go-to calorie-counting app. It’s super easy to use, and its library of foods is huge. It also lets you track calories burned. It uses the calorie deficit principle to help you set a weight loss or a maintenance calorie range, and it also lets you track nutrients like protein and carbohydrates. It’s one of the easiest-to-use health/fitness apps out there. I discovered it toward the end of my 110-pound weight loss journey & continued using it to maintain my weight and now to track calorie intake & burn during my pregnancy. Highly, highly recommended if you’re serious about any sort of health & fitness effort.
Mint: This mobile app along with their web interface is one of the easiest ways to manage your budget & track your spending & saving out there. It aggregates all of your accounts into one place, lets you set monthly budgets and alerts you when you’re spending too much.
Moleskine Notebooks: Cliché for writers, I know. But I carry one with me everywhere. I admittedly use them slightly less now that I can jot things down so easily on my iPhone, but I still make it a habit to break out the pen & paper on a regular basis. And no matter how reliable technology is these days, it’s likely to never beat out paper and pen. Personally, I like the blank pages rather than the lined ones for times when I feel like sketching or even just writing outside the lines.
G2 Gel Pens: These are the best pens out there for my money. They write smoothly, don’t bleed, don’t link, and come in a variety of colors to keep things interesting. The little cushion is nice, too, for writing the occasionally story longhand or taking notes.
Post-It Notes: You’ll find these all over my house. T and I scribble notes on them and leave them in random places on a fairly regular basis. And while that’s my favorite use for them, I also use them for more practical things like posting notes (imagine that!) to myself or marking pages in books.
3×5 Note Cards: These serve a similar purpose to the Post-Its, but they give me more room to work. I use them to plot screenplays, to take notes on phone calls, to jot down recipes when I’m creating them in the kitchen or to add up calories as I work. This is a habit I picked up from my dad, who’s had a neverending stack of 3×5 cards on his desk for as long as I can remember.
iPad: While I still prefer my laptop for most mobile computing, the iPad is a great substitute for when I’m travelling and not planning to spend a ton of time at the keyboard. When coupled with my wireless keyboard, though, it’s even easy if I do need to do some longer-form writing on it. I also use it a lot in the kitchen, where I pull up recipes while cooking. Just be careful not to splatter stuff all over the screen obviously. I also occasionally watch Netflix or HBOGo on it when I can’t be arsed to drag myself to my iMac or actual TV to watch something. I’m still operating on an original iPad I bought used from my mom, who then went out and bought an iPad 3. No, I’m not jealous at all. (That’s a lie.)
iPhone 5: I honestly have no idea how I functioned before upgrading to a smart phone. I started off with an HTC Evo Shift, which worked great until it didn’t. Switching to an iPhone was one of the great decisions of my life. Yes, that is a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one. The speed, the apps, the iCloud syncing, the camera, etc., etc. Just like my conversion Mac computers, I can’t imagine I’ll ever switch to a non-Apple phone again.
What Do You Recommend?
That’s the gist of how I keep my life together — more or less — using apps and hardware. What am I missing? What app is a lifesaver for you? What hardware changed your life? Share with us in the comments!