It happens every day in big corporations and mom and pop businesses, in classrooms and kitchens, in forests, on mountaintops, while you’re asleep and even when you’re on the toilet. What happens? Ideas are hatched. But all too often, either the one who came up with the idea or somebody else, will shoot it down before the little fledgling concept has fully unfurled from its cocoon and made first attempts to spread its wings.
At some point, it’s probably a good idea to kill an idea. If you’ve spent some time studying it and played through scenarios that might indicate that the potential reward is insignificant compared to the potential risk, it might be a good idea to put this idea on a shelf before you blow your life savings on it. But often, the idea can be nurtured, allowed to grow and play out a bit before one has to make significant investments of time and money. At this point, pursuing the idea can yield all sorts of interesting benefits.
For example, we might see some relatively small business grow and grow and grow on the strengths of it being edgy, provocative and daring. But the when the company becomes a billion dollar brand, it now has to answer to its shareholders. Its founders, who were once hungry and eager to try new things, now spend their time trying to keep their positions and maintain the status quo. Ideas, which were once eagerly acted upon are now looked upon as being too risky. Eventually, another company who is more hungry, more eager and more willing, knocks the “old schoolers” from their pedestal.
I can’t help but think about Apple and the ubiquitous iPod, begets iPhone, begets iPad. It seemed back in the 80’s that Sony ruled the landscape when it came to personal audio devices. The Walkman, later the Sony Discman and then MP3 player. But somehow, Apple managed to not only knock Sony from their pedestal, they practically knocked them out of the category. One might say this was because Apple did everything right, and indeed we have enough articles regaling Steve Jobs leadership that laid end to end they’d probably stretch from New York to Los Angeles.
But little is discussed about the obvious fact that while Apple may have done everything right, Sony must have been doing everything wrong to even give Apple the opportunity to come in and dominate. Despite the success of the Macintosh computer, prior to the iPod, Apple wasn’t sitting on a pile of money and compared to Sony, Apple was very much David to their Goliath.
I’m not sure where Sony sits now, but Apple is currently the world’s largest corporation. Let that sink in for a moment. David didn’t actually slay Goliath, they became Goliath. No, they didn’t just become Goliath, they became Goliath on steroids.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually no lover of Apple. I’m not a big fan of their corporate philosophy and I don’t quite understand why a Macbook Pro costs 3 times more than a similarly equipped PC notebook. A premium would be expected, but the differential in price for essentially the same components makes me believe that “think different” simply means think price gauging.
But personal feelings aside, there’s no denying that Apple understands their customer and has a very strong mission to be the leader when it comes to technology and service.
Let’s talk a little bit about another interesting bit of Apple history, and the “tablet computer’s” history. In 1987 Apple started its tablet project. It actually came out with several versions of a tablet computer. Perhaps some of you recall the Newton.
In 1994, Knight-Ridder developed plans for a tablet computer designed to support the publishing world, not too much unlike today’s Kindle. There were several technical roadblocks that kept this device from getting onto the starting blocks.
The WebBook Company had planned a tablet computer called the “Surfboard” in 1996. It too never saw the light of day.
In 1998, a company called FrontPath introduced a Linux tablet computer, which eventually was also released as a Windows 98 tablet.
Targeted to address business needs mainly as note-taking devices, with eventual applications in field order processing, data entry and health care, Microsoft readdressed their tablet computer in 1999 and 2000 with the Microsoft Tablet PC, which would be a licensed system and would run a specific tablet version of their Windows OS.
Besides the examples we’ve cited prior to Apple’s release of the first iPad on April 10, 2010, there were numerous attempts by many companies to develop a tablet based computing system. They all failed financially, including other attempts by Apple.
Rather than simply accept the fact that tablet PC’s would never take off, Apple remained resolute over many, many years, committed to the “idea” of creating a viable product, as well as being determined to have the role of the catalyst for establishing a lucrative new marketplace for a tablet computing device. The rest as they say is history.
Even Microsoft is back in the fray, dedicating massive amounts of its resources to the “Surface”, a tablet based computer that will work on Windows OS 8. Unlike Apple, who has elected to have one operating system for its desktop and laptop computers and a second for its tablets and phones, Microsoft is banking on using the same operating system for laptops, desktops and their tablets, leaving a second mobile operating system strictly for phones.
Who knows if Microsoft’s new tablet technology will do to Apple what Apple did to Sony years earlier with their iPod? But if I had to bank on it, Apple will figure out new and inventive ways to keep their position at the top of the pyramid for quite some time. Simply put, they excel at growing ideas.