A Surprising Lesson From Apple

Greetings. Apple is in the news again with two new iPhones and the long-awaited Apple Watch. In today’s world, “long-awaited” seems to mean something that has been imagined about for a year or two. Talk about resetting our notion of time and the speed at which all of us need to bring new ideas to market. In any event, the early buzz for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus and the Apple Watch seems pretty positive, though it is hard to sort out whether these new products…and the watch in particular…will be the next game changers for this remarkable company.

Apple Watch

But there is an important lesson to learn from innovative companies like Apple that flies in the face of conventional wisdom about how the most successful companies innovate. The notion that they are filled with exceedingly clever people who, in the confines of their exceedingly well-designed workplaces, figure everything out by themselves. In fact, Apple owes much of its success to the ideas and insights of total strangers.

Think about what makes the iPod media player, with its dominant market share, so ubiquitous and successful. Certainly cool design, ease of use, and simple and elegant functionality have a lot to do with it. But Apple didn’t invent the concept of personalized music…that was Sony way back in 1979 with its then-revolutionary Walkman. And Apple didn’t invent the technology platform the iPod relies on…that was audio engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg and a German company named Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft, which developed the MP3 standard and received a patent for it in 1989. Ten years later, the first portable MP3 players hit the market, two years before the first iPod. And Apple, with its wildly successful iTunes store, certainly didn’t invent the notion of creating the greatest single source of content in the world: that was the Egyptians, who roughly 2,300 years ago built the Great Library of Alexandria…a library that contained more than four hundred thousand documents long before there were printing presses. Though its music and video collections left a lot to be desired.

Sony Walkman

What Apple did was combine its own brilliance with these inputs from strangers, along with the skills of a number of equally clever outside partners, to create the most compelling offering and product ecosystem available.

And the story is the same with the latest iPhones and iWatch.

Which suggests that all of us, and all of our companies and organizations, would benefit greatly from creating stronger connections with a network of very creative strangers who might provide a powerful foundation for our newest and best ideas.

We win in business and in life when we come to appreciate the brilliance of those who have come before us and those around us today whose ideas provide an essential piece to the puzzle of our success.


Finding Magic in a Library

Greetings.  They are almost forgotten in this era of instant information that is driven right to our desks, PDAs, or phones.  In fact, we probably walk or drive by at least one library every day without giving it a second thought.  In a time when professionals in so many fields are satisfied with brief snippets of information, and students are allowed to do most of their research on line, we seem to have less use for them.  After all, it's a Wikipedia world–not that this brilliant idea isn't a valuable tool.  And a growing number of avid readers are now downloading books, MP3 files, and a host of other information onto their Kindles or other "reading" devices.  Again, very clever and valuable tools for people on the go who don't want to be weighed down by a bunch of hard copy.  

No, the sad truth is that we all seem way too busy to pause long enough to visit a library and read, relax, explore, and learn.  To discover today's genius and the genius of every generation before us.  To walk in without a destination in mind, only to be captivated by a book, or a magazine, or a film that we never anticipated or planned to find–but one with the power to transport us to a different world filled with new ideas, inspiration, and possibilities.  Libraries are places filled with magic, and as we race to forget that essential fact we lose a unique and wonderful opportunity to unlock our individual and collective curiosity and genius.  Curiosity and genius that could help us to be more remarkable at work, in our civic lives, or at anything worth doing. 

So this weekend, or any weekend when you aren't so overscheduled and overwhelmed, find an hour or two to visit a library near you.  It doesn't have to be the Library of Congress–though just walking in there makes me feel smarter and more inspired.  Or the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt, founded in the year 228 B.C. and a place where brilliant thinkers like Eratosthenes and Euclid use to hang out.  Or the the Yunju Temple in China that dates back to the 7th Century.  Or the British Library in London.  Or the New York Public Library. Any library will do.  Just as long as you commit to wandering the aisles, exploring the new and old book corners, and giving yourself the freedom to be taken on a journey to discover new places, perspectives, questions, and answers.


We have the greatest chance to reach our potential as people, organizations, and communities when we open our eyes to rediscover the wonder of learning.  Maybe your remarkable story will be written in even more compelling ways by a visit around the corner.

Cheers and have a magical weekend!