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Reflections on Steve Jobs and the impact of Apple

by Randall Craig on October 7, 2011

Filed in: Blog, Make It Happen Tipsheet, Strategy, Viewpoint

Tagged as: , , ,

Steve Jobs was a visionary:  incredible focus, a market disruptor, a tech genius, a serial entrepreneur, and so on.  All true, but there is also something else – a thread that underlies and connects everything that Apple does: their focus on the empowered customer. 

From day one, this was reflected in the user experience. It was reflected in the industrial design.  It was reflected in the customer service experience.  Whenever there was a gap – whenever the consumer’s needs weren’t being addressed, Apple innovated to satisfy the need.  Genius bars in Apple Stores solved the problem of where to get hands-on Apple support.  The Apple stores themselves solved the problem of where to actually purchase the products.  The iTunes store solved the problem of how to easily (and legally) download digital music.  The iPod solved the problem of taking your music with you, much like the Walkman did a generation before.  And most of all, the Mac user interface made computing accessible to the general public – not just tech enthusiasts. 

There are dozens of other examples of innovation (their ad campaigns, from the 1984 superbowl ad to the recent “I’m a Mac” campaign, the iPhone, the iPad, etc), but each one was designed starting with the customer in mind.  This allowed Apple to break the conventional wisdom:  While their competitor IBM had the word “Think” as a corporate motto –  Apple used “Think Differently”.  (As an aside, I have an analog “Think Differently” watch from Apple where the hands move counter-clockwise.  Very Cool.) 

Of course, Apple had it’s missteps: the Newton (I still have mine, packed safely in a box, in a place of honor).  The decision to license clones (quickly abandoned when Steve Jobs came back), and their inability to penetrate the corporate market to name a few.  Interestingly, if Apple didn’t take these risks, perhaps they wouldn’t have taken the risks that resulted in all of their great products.

During the summer of 1985, which was the school term just before I graduated, I had an internship in the marketing department at IBM.   While it was a great opportunity, I was frustrated because of their total ignorance of what I now know as user-centered design and user-centered marketing.  I decided to fix this, with the grudging permission of my manager.  I brought my Mac into the office each day, both to educate my colleagues, and also to be more productive.  I still recall putting together hand-outs for customer workshops, printed (desktop-published) beautifully on my home printer.  I learned about marketing IBM-style, while my colleagues learned quite a bit about the Mac; my manager learned enough to not give me a full-time job offer.  (In retrospect, very bad call on their part.)

That Macintosh cost me $3200, or at 16 pounds, $200/pound.  It had 128K of RAM, and a very noisy 400K floppy.  Today, my Macbook Air cost $1600, weighs 3 pounds, has 4,000,000K of RAM, and a silent 256,000,000K solid state drive.  Progress indeed, but this is just the “output” of Steve Jobs’ genius.  The real progress is how many other organizations – inside the tech world and out – have begun to truly focus on the needs of their clients.  And surprisingly, how many still don’t. 

This week’s action plan:  Is your product or service (or you) truly different than your competitor’s?  Is everything that you do completely focused on empowering your customer – both today’s and tomorrow’s?  Being more like Steve means bringing an exceptional focus on the customer to whatever you do.

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Randall Craig

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Randall has been advising on Web and Social Strategy since 1994 when he put the Toronto Star online, the Globe and Mail's GlobeInvestor/Globefund, several financial institutions, and about 100+ other major organizations. He is the author of seven books, including the recently released "Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business", and speaks across North America on Social Media and Web Strategy. More at and

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