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The Carletonian

The business of inside-out

<t another column about the late Steve Jobs.  I promise.  Keep reading.

This is a column about leadership and how Jobs embodied the perfect combination of ideas, inspiration and emotion with his company. 

Step back and think for a minute: what is special about Apple?  Are Macs particularly excellent computers?  Some would say, “absolutely.”  Those people may have simply fallen under the spell, because Macs are really not technologically better than other IBM, Dell, or HP computers out there.   Even if they are slightly better than their PC counterparts, Jobs and his team have definitely inflated the Mac pricing beyond its performance capacity.  Why are they allowed to put an enormous price tag on their products?  Why are they allowed to take a computer that is probably only marginally better than that of its competitors and make a significantly larger profit off of it?

Some people would say design.  Apple products have always been on top of their game in terms of sleek looks and smooth layout.  Still, though, other computer companies have excellent design teams and products that look just as “cool” as Macs do.

Others would say intuition.  This is closer to the mark.  Apple’s MacBooks and iPhones are, especially for a certain consumerist generation, very easy to use.  The producers of the technology know how to make their computing systems transparent and simple for anyone.  But intuition alone doesn’t get you to be the organization that, at one point, had more money than the country it resides in.

The real answer is that Jobs did not sell computers.  Jobs sold a way of life.

Most companies, as leadership specialist Simon Sinek says, start with the product and work towards the consumer.  They say something along these lines:  We have an amazing product.  It’s well designed, easy to use and fast.  That’s why it can help you in your everyday life.  You need this product because you are a fast-moving citizen and you want information now.

Apple goes inside out.  They say this: You’re a fast-moving citizen.  You need your information immediately, and you want a product that you can use easily every day of your life.  We understand you, and we have a product that can do that for you.  Our computers are well designed, easy to use and fast.

Which one would you choose?  Judging by the prevalence of MacBooks on campus, there’s no need to answer.  I fell for it myself.  The conclusion: order matters.

Apple’s strategy works because they do not start with the product; they start with you.  They hit you in the gut with an emotional appeal, show that they understand your needs, and then convince you that their product can help you – not only with your English papers and Facebook browsing, but also (and most importantly) with your lifestyle as a whole.  As Sinek says, this feeling of trust with Apple and their products stems not from how reliable their computers are, but with how reliable their motivations and beliefs are.

This article, though, is not so much about what Apple does.  My goal, in speaking to an audience of excellent students at a school with departments in nearly every discipline imaginable, is to motivate.  Inspiration of the Jobs variety is not about perfection, it’s not about going to a prestigious school,and it’s not even about your major; it’s about a firm belief in an idea and a desire to spread it.  Money is subordinate to a yearning for innovation.

So, who’s next?

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