Apple's secret sauce: Obsessive perfectionism

Apple doesn’t want to look great or seem great, Apple wants to BE great:

“I’m not sure Apple even thinks about the competition,” Yamashita says. “They’re uniquely themselves without worrying about anyone else. When I worked for Steve there was little discussion about the competition. The aim was for us to be the most extreme version of ourselves.” …

“Apple is obsessiveness to the power of 10,” he says. “And you see it everywhere. It’s in things that are immediately visible, like the retail stores. They spend more on tenant improvements than anyone: stone floors, not wood floors; glass tables, not plexiglass. But it’s also in things you don’t ordinarily see: Apple has the most symmetrically laid out motherboard in the industry. They’re obsessive about the supply chain, obsessive about the design of the product, the packaging.”

Yamashita tells the story of Jobs’s walk-through before the opening of the first Apple Store. At the time, Apple was selling iMacs, the candy-colored computers that came in different “flavors.” Jobs walked into the store where the computers were lined up flawlessly on a table, took one look at the display, then ordered the computers taken off and the table turned upside down. Then he pointed at a seam on the bottom of the table and pronounced it “unacceptable.” Of course, customers would never see it. That wasn’t the point. The point was it was there. The point was not to allow an imperfection. The point was not to give up on the Apple dream.

“Apple has always been on an ongoing journey to be its best self,” Yamashita says. “Its marketing mission is to help Apple customers get the most out of their Apple products, to equip and enable their customers to be their best self, too. That kind of thinking has led to online tutorials, lessons at the Apple Stores, ‘gen­ius bars.’ What other company would hire 12,000 experts and then not charge customers a penny to talk with them?”

The same formula — relentless determination to improve continually — works for students too:

As Levin watched the progress of those KIPP alumni, he noticed something curious: the students who persisted in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically at KIPP; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.

Posted by James on Monday, September 19, 2011