October 19

Leadership lessons from Apple.

On Tuesday 9th August 2011 Apple officially became the most valuable company in the US. Apple has long been admired for its business strategy and mass love for its brand and I for one have always been a massive fan. Apple has been slowly making its way to the top recently overtaking Microsoft to become the 2nd most valuable company in the US. By innovation management and innovation specialist Cris Beswick.

Apple’s next competitor was Exxon Mobil who has been the most valuable company in the US since 2005. But on the 9th of August 2011 Wall Street closed with Exxon’s market capital at $331bn but Apple just piped them to the post with $337bn or £209bn. I believe that Apple have got to their position not only through their business and branding strategy (and of course amazing products) but also through superb leadership and innovation. I believe most importantly, organisational culture is the secret to their phenomenal successes. Remaining innovative is the true secret to beating your competitors. Setting yourself, your products and your brand message apart is not easy, but it is vital to elevate your business above others.

In today’s ultra-competitive globalised market place filled with savvy consumers, and agile competitors there is in fact little room for innovation, as we’ve historically known it. When I work with organisations and their senior teams on innovation, what we really looking at is culture and how to do things differently. Why? Because competitive advantage is no longer about ‘what you do’ it’s about ‘how you do it’. Your competitors can copy products along with everyone else but if you get it right, they won’t be able to do it like you do, they won’t be able to copy your culture – It’s unique! It’s what I call ‘Differentiated Innovation’.

Developing a culture of innovation is what drives internal and external differentiation and ultimately business growth. However this isn’t a natural position for most organisations so requires carefully managed change. Transforming organisational culture must be done through the employees. The strategy that defines the organisation and its direction must be ‘co-created’ and that requires carefully managed engagement. Almost every organisation I work with where there is a need for a transformation in culture, leadership is both the cause and the solution. The performance of any organisation is defined by how engaged its people are and that’s defined by whether those people have a purpose. That purpose needs to be big enough to inspire them to willingly contribute more than what they are contractually obliged to and that requires amazing leadership.

The organisations that get it wrong tend to be headed up by a CEO who has bestowed him/herself with the leadership badge. However, a person choosing to follow defines true leadership status. These followers are the only ones who can bestow the leadership badge! Apple has created what I call a ‘people centric’ organisation balanced with a ‘customer centric’ brand! Vision, innovation, engagement, an amazing place to work and inspirational leadership are some of the values that have helped define Apples success. The unanswered question is did ‘all’ that all came from Jobs?

Apple is constantly one step ahead of its competitors – it’s amazing products and business processes have skyrocketed it from an ailing organisation into a trusted, renowned brand. You can produce the best products on the market, but without the culture of innovation, which pulls everyone collectively in the right direction; your organisation may find itself floundering. Always looking forward and not back is what got Apple to where it is today, and it is a lesson for any SMEs which have been struggling, whether it is due to the economic downturn or circumstance. Apple’s ethos is to “build something truly different, you need to work in a truly different way”, and it is this thinking that has placed them at the forefront of their industry. The common ground that brands such as Apple and Microsoft share is that they are the best at what they do – they really differentiate themselves from their competitors by being visionaries and have mastered the art of unearthing unarticulated needs as well as articulated ones. This creates a desire for their products, which helps make their brand the “no-brainer” choice.

Changing the way you do things may seem like a risk, but calculated risks are crucial to ensure your business doesn’t plateau. Building a co-created and firmly underpinned innovation culture continues to be one of the main drivers of competitive advantage and growth as evidenced by the continuing success of these brands. So, remember the next time you’re looking at organisations like Apple it’s not necessarily what they do but ‘how’ they do it!


Innovation, Innovation Culture, Leadership, Strategy

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