Simple questions

I used to smoke. And it didn’t matter how hard I tried to rationalise or defend my smoking, it all boiled down to one question.

Would I be happy to see my children smoke?

The answer never changed, it was always No. I should have learnt more quickly from that.
Sometimes we need simple questions to break through our own sophistication and sophistry.

Two examples.

Over the years I’ve regularly found myself in senior management meetings where everyone opines with great wisdom and knowledge about the merits and demerits of a particular application. And over the years I’ve learnt to listen quietly and come in at the right time with a simple question:

Have you actually seen it?

More recently, as I’ve seen the kerfuffle about the iPhone, I’ve been tempted to try the same device out. I shall wait for a time when I am surrounded by Blefuscudians, one group arguing that Jobs is God and the other claiming he missed the opportunity to bring peace to the Middle East and solve global warming by signing up with Cingular-soon-to-become-AT&T.

And then I shall ask:

If I gave you a working iPhone, would you refuse it?

That should sort out the detractor wheat from the chaff.

This is important. Innovation, as Michael Schrage says, is what the consumer consumers, not what the innovator “innovates”. The secret of the iPod’s success is its, well, success.

Why did it succeed? I am not alone in fighting for vendor-independent devices and software platforms. I know many people who believe in what I believe, yet use iPods. So why did the iPod succeed?

I think people want freedom in their devices and in their software. They also want simplicity and convenience. And they want to be able to afford it. And they want it to have it, to have style.

People are pragmatic. They trade some freedom for some convenience and some coolth.

But only up to a point.

There is a minimum amount of freedom people will insist on having. When the trade-offs come close to that amount, people will push back.

What Apple needs to do is make sure that they never get to that push-back point.
And in a strange kind of way this is good for all of us, an each-way bet. Because a market opportunity is created. A variant of The Threat is Stronger than The Move.

Let’s say someone comes up with a phone that’s better than the iPhone. Better in freedom and convenience and style and coolth. That’s good for us.

My guess is someone will come up with that freer-simpler-cheaper-cooler phone. My guess is that someone is Apple. But even if it’s someone else the customer wins.
Innovation is what the customer consumes.

Try naming ten people who have non-iPod personal music players. The chances are you will name a few. Less than ten. Who use their phones as their music-playing devices.  Go figure.

2 thoughts on “Simple questions”

  1. JP, since your previous article was entitled “Setting the record straight,” I feel it appropriate to point out that Peter Drucker made that point about the success of innovation residing with the consumer long before Michael Schrage did (although possibly not before Michael was born)!

  2. And it’s interesting to me how the noise about the iPhone has rather drowned out the launch of the iTV which is the continuation of a strategic thrust by Apple and which will, I guess, be consumed by a lot of consumers.

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