I recently watched a televised interview with John Scully, the CEO Steve Jobs recruited from PepsiCo in 1983 to lead Apple when Jobs was twenty-eight. Reflecting on what happened to Apple over the subsequent twenty-seven years, Scully commented that Apple's board made a mistake in hiring him.
Scully observed that Apple's board of directors should have, instead, found a way to work with the immensely talented Jobs, despite his difficult personality. The interview occurred shortly after Apple under Jobs as CEO became the most valuable corporation in the United States in 2010. By contrast, Apple barely survived mistakes under Scully's leadership after he removed Jobs as head of the Macintosh division in 1985.
Jobs chose Scully to lead Apple because of Scully's success in profitably gaining market share for Pepsi-Cola against its cola rival. What went wrong for Scully at Apple? While many people believe that any good business leader can successfully head any other business, history teaches otherwise. All but a few business leaders have done much better in operating some types of businesses than in any others.
Each business leader has different skills, experience, and knowledge. In some cases, the fit with what the business needs to prosper is almost perfect, much like a custom-made suit or a designer-created dress complements its wearer. In most cases, however, the leadership fit with the business is poor, creating the wrong results much as when someone wears clothes that are much too large or small, and feature colors and designs that accentuate undesirable aspects of the wearer's body shape.
When I teach aspiring entrepreneurs about how to succeed, I emphasize one lesson above all others: Pick a market to serve where your every thought and feeling is already identical to what current and prospective customers and employees think and feel or will think and feel. I think of such congruence as being a gift provided by humble empathy.
Why do I provide such advice? It's simple: The most successful entrepreneurs I've met and studied thought and felt just like their customers and employees. Such entrepreneurs also displayed vastly greater imagination, desire, and determination to make improvements than did other entrepreneurs I have met and studied.
You've probably read more articles and books than you care to remember that tell you to listen to customers and to give them what they want. While it's certainly better to listen to customers than to ignore them, there are two problems with such advice:
1. If you think and feel differently than customers do about the benefits and drawbacks of your offerings, you'll often miss the point of what they are telling you.
2. Customers have a hard time imagining their future reactions to what doesn't yet exist.
As an intelligent person who has confidence in your abilities, you may be thinking, "How hard can it be to learn to think and feel like my customers do?" Becoming fluent in Hebrew (for those who aren't) will probably be an easier task.
Why? Thoughts and emotions are deeply rooted in our minds to experiences, assumptions, context, and culture. Without having the same roots as your customers you may not fully appreciate what their thoughts and feelings mean, even when you can grasp what those thoughts and feelings are.
But if you have such roots in place and think and feel like current and prospective customers, then it's a no-brainer to get it right in growing the market to a larger size.
So what's a good market for you to expand by twenty times while gaining a high percentage of the growth for your business? It's any market with large potential where you already think and feel exactly like the typical and prospective customers.
Let me give you an example of how this approach works. Steve Jobs is a legend in consumer electronics for having helped to develop and to market the first mass desktop computer, the Apple II. Later, he led the development of the more innovative Macintosh computer.
After being ousted from Apple, he led the animation business, Pixar, which has created so many movie hits. More recently, Jobs amazed almost everyone by creating the iPod and the iTunes store that made it practical, legal, and cool to accumulate and to enjoy portable, low-cost music.
Since Jobs' death, Apple continues in the process of creating a similar result for portable communications through the iPhone and iPad.
How could one person be so inventive and so successful? It's easy: He just developed markets by creating businesses that provided offerings that he would have liked to use. Jobs was gifted with a feel for what demanding consumers wanted from cutting-edge personal electronics and electronic-based entertainment and tools. When his new offerings came out, these trend-setting buyers were quick to snap up what
Jobs provided. Customers enjoyed greater access to benefits, felt smart while doing so, and loved the look and feel of the products they operated.
In that very resonance, however, was an Achilles' heel for Jobs: He had less sense of or interest in what the average (as opposed to trend-setting) consumer electronics user wanted. Consequently, competitors may eventually scoop up most of the benefit from his innovations by making a popular version that better fits what most people want.
As a result, Jobs missed many of the largest related business opportunities of all time including selling operating system software (the core of Microsoft's success) despite having the best one for desktop applications, designing "cool" high-definition televisions, and providing a full line of computer products and access to software that larger companies need.
Why did Jobs miss those areas? The answer is based in his perspective. Jobs was reportedly proud to be uninterested in such areas and spent millions of Apple's dollars on advertisements making fun of people who were.
Donald Mitchell is the author of Business Basics which provides 52 lessons in how to create a new enterprise that will have 400 times more profit and 8,000 times more cash flow and value. To learn more, you can read excerpts from the book at: http://www.amazon.com/Business-Basics-Customers-Investments-Stakeholders...