In THIS column, we have constantly discussed the need for leaders to continually adapt their business strategies to ensure sustainability in an ever changing market.
Systems Think with Sam Hlabati
There is a Spanish proverb that says, “A wise man changes his mind, a fool never.”
As such business leaders who remain stuck to their original ideas are bound to be swallowed by dynamic market forces that bring about situations they never thought of or imagined before.
Any leadership thinker worth being called as such will agree with the age old adage that says “Change is the only constant”. Yet some leaders are so stuck in particular stand points simply because they do not want to change their ideas.
The most insensitive circumstances are those of business leaders who extrapolate their egos into the business by making statements and declarations that are founded on their own unfortunate “I know it all mentality”.
Such situations are indicative of individual leaders who are flattered by the momentary success of the organisations they lead, the success “opium” would have intoxicated their mind to the extent that they would just believe that they are super beings in their own standing; and they speak forth quotable quotes.
A significant number of people would agree that Steve Jobs is one of the most celebrated business leaders of our modern times.
Commenting on the success of Apple, Jobs was quoted saying, “We started out to get a computer in the hands of everyday people, and we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.”
The man had a vision of a “computer for the rest of us” that sparked the personal computer revolution and which made Apple an icon of American business. He had his heart in the right place.
Jobs clashed with Apple’s board of directors in 1983 and was ousted from the board by the then CEO John Sculley, whom Jobs had handpicked to help him run Apple. He was to later return to Apple in 1997 to help the company when it needed his visionary approach to innovation.
Jobs was a celebrity business leader, whichever way you look at it, he was popular. He was the kind of leader everyone wanted to hear pronounce something about business ideas.
At one of his many press conferences in 2010, when responding to a question about whether Apple could have done anything to avoid its poor antenna reception issues with the iPhone 4, Steve took the opportunity to rip apart his rivals by saying that making a phone so big “you can’t get your hand around it” helps in solving reception issues, but he said that “no one’s going to buy that” big screen phone.
Jobs was obviously taking a swipe at the then latest 4, 4.3 and 5inch phones that included the Samsung Galaxy S series, and others such as EVO 4G, Droid X, and Dell Streak. Jobs called such phones Hummers, in reference to the huge bodies of the vehicles with that name that find their way into office parking basements crowding out other ordinary sized vehicles instead of being in the rough terrain they are made for; no offence to Hummer owners was intended I guess.
Presumably, Jobs had the idea of preserving the big screens for the iPad. The request from the market was that the IPhone could be made bigger to accommodate a better antenna due to IPhone 4’s notoriety for dropping calls due to poor reception.
Was Jobs correct about his sentiments; just like everything else, only time would judge him? Jobs resigned as the Apple CEO in April 2011, to be replaced by Tim Cook.
Steven Paul “Steve” Jobs passed on in October of the same year.
It is good for business leader to strongly believe in their business ideas; it comes with the passion for the product and the zeal to succeed.
But how clear is the line between proper business reasoning and just pure ego.
The smartphone industry remains one of the most fiercely competitive and innovation continues to quadruple with every new smartphone that comes on the market.
The executives at Apple are fully aware of the need to follow the market trends and needs for them to not only retain their market share but to grow it.
With slowing down IPhone sales in 2013, the executive had to check where they could have been going wrong. One of the key issues that they reportedly had to face was the torrent of complains from their own customers about the size of the screen of the IPhone 5, 5C and 5s.
The question is what would Jobs have done or said in the instance of such revelations. The very customers for whom he had assumed self-proclaimed authority to speak on their behalf were now disagreeing with him.
I confess to be an Apple disciple, I respect their products for their cute designs and the fashion statement that they make for their bearer.
Just like others out there, I was tempted by the invention of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 “Phablet” as its makers call it.
Unlike what Jobs thought, there is not issue about not being able to get my hand around the big screen, the huge display comes in handy when reading the documents and surfing the web.
I still have my IPhone 5s though, eagerly waiting for the big screen IPhone 6 Plus.
The question that remains unanswered is based on what market information did Jobs utter the statements on the market’s behalf that “no one’s going to buy that” big screen smartphone? Why did he simply believe that people are concerned when they “… can’t get your their hand around …” the device that would be bigger than the IPhone? Unfortunately, the question will remain unanswered because Jobs is no more.
How much of an assumption do you make of what your customers actually like?
With how much effort do you go out of your way to ensure that you achieve differentiation with the rest of the completion?
In the absence of answers from Mr Jobs, we could hypothesise that his utterances about the belief of consumers not preferring big screens was just his own way of expressing differentiation with the competition.
If that was the case, was such differentiation what Apple needed to achieve?
For some time there has been a difference between IPhones and other smart close competitors such as the Samsung Galaxy Note series; that difference has been mainly the screen size.
Did the differentiation that was sought achieve results for Apple; maybe it did. A further question is whether the results were positive. We can answer that question with a review of what Apple has just recently done, they recently launched the IPhone 6 range, with the IPhone 6 plus being just as big as the Galaxy Note Edge. Was Jobs going to be able to get his hand around the Apple gadget?
Seems like that was what mattered most to him.
The most uncooperative person when it comes to changing a strategic view about business ideas is the person who initiated the idea.
The person would have sworn in the beginning that their idea would have been the best, mainly due to its difference from ideas being pursued by the competition. Reversing the idea and following the previously despised ideas would be a serious dent on the ego of the supposed “big ideas person”.
I guess the world was saddened by the departure of Mr Jobs; however Apple is incidentally in a better space to reverse the idea that despised big screen phones.
Imagine what the popular Steve Jobs would have done faced with the prospects of having to swallow his proud words. I guess the Apple board would have had the onerous task of firing him again from the company.
How many ideas did you propose and fiercely defended in your organisation that no longer make sense? Do you still defend to this day? Are you aware that your ego should be much smaller than the company common good?
Just because you are reading this column it means that you are still in this world and most probably you are still within your company?
Are you busy defending your outdated and inappropriate ideas? Will you be surprised if one day you are handed any empty box to pack your belongings and get ushered through the door; being told that your exit package will be in your bank account soon.
The consumers of the products that your company is selling know what they want; and their needs and preferences change constantly. It does not matter what you believe they want, just give them what they want. Steve Jobs got the wrong end of the stick about consumers’ preferences for big screen phones. Tim Cook and the remaining executives seem to have gotten the message from the market by introducing the big screen IPhone 6 Plus.
We close with the words of Sun Tzu; ancient Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher; who said;
“Deep knowledge is to be aware of disturbance before disturbance, to be aware of danger before danger, to be aware so destruction before destruction, to be aware of calamity before calamity”
Let not your ego cloud your perception about what the market actually needs.
Sam Hlabati is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), a Certified Compensation Professional (CCP®) and a Global Remuneration Professional (GRP®). E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter handle; @samhlabati