The day Apple introduced the iPod was the day it ceased being just a computer company – not that many people realized that at the time. In fact, Steve Jobs may have been the only one who did. But over the next few years, as succeeding and improved iterations of the pocket music player came out, the idea gradually sunk in that Apple had expanded beyond the realm of the Macintosh.
The notion became permanently etched into the public’s consciousness with the subsequent introductions of the iPhone and iPad. Sure, Apple continued to produce evermore powerful, functional, and sophisticated computers and laptops. But Apple had morphed into a lifestyle company: a purveyor of tools and technologies that make our lives more pleasant, to some degree easier and, in many ways, more portable.
What Apple and Steve Jobs figured out was how those tools and technologies perfectly linked to one another to create a unified whole that redefined for the world what Apple was and what it was capable of doing and giving us.
In a similar vein, it’s unlikely that anyone who draws a paycheck from Nike thinks of the company as a shoemaker. When Bill Bowerman, the exceptional University of Oregon track coach, borrowed his wife’s waffle iron in the 1960s to make the sole for his ideal running shoe, he launched Nike. Little about the company today would be familiar to him.
Today, the company’s Nike+ system allows runners to monitor and track each workout by means of sensors in their shoes to download data through Bluetooth into devices like iPhones. Via a Nike Internet platform, runners can share performance data online and receive customized advice from Nike coaches. Now that’s something Coach Bowerman would have loved.
But that’s only one small part of what Nike does and is capable of today.
Amazon and Google
Amazon is not just an online bookseller. In addition to selling just about any and all consumer products, Amazon is now in direct competition to Netflix, streaming its own movie and TV series catalogues. Rumor has it that Amazon wants to get into the cellphone business, too – with free cellphones, no less. Jeff Bezos just bought the Washington Post. Any guesses as to what that might mean for Amazon (and the Post)?
Google is not just a search engine but, well, Google is now into nearly everything: from tablets, smartphones and the Android operating system that runs them, to office productivity software and advertising.
What these organizations have in common is that they didn’t stand still within the narrow confines of how the world perceived and defined them. Instead, they grasped the essence of their craft and passions, and understood where they excelled. They asked themselves what that implied, where it might take them, and what was possible. And they haven’t stopped asking those questions yet.
Companies too numerous to name hewed to the tight concept of themselves, and continued to practice their trade efficiently and repeatedly. As a result, many of them either no longer exist or are a mere shadow of their former selves.
While being in business in a capitalist system means you must grow, growth for its own sake is ultimately fruitless. What gets people out of bed in the morning and commuting to jobs at places like Apple and Nike is the thrill of constantly reinventing their businesses, of expanding the realm of the possible.
The growth, success and profitability that those companies subsequently realize are the outcomes of that effort, not the reasons for the pursuit. When business leaders confuse the two, the end is in sight.
What are you doing today to reinvent your business for tomorrow?