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MAPping the Future

Why I grieve the loss of Steve Jobs

/ 12:40 AM October 17, 2011

The world is poorer for the death of Steve Jobs. His absence will exacerbate the downward spiral of values in a global village where leaders have the sickest notions of how to do right by their constituents.

Steve Jobs stood for originality

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Apple’s products are trailblazing solutions to compelling human problems.

In contrast, many countries and enterprises make it their business to steal the work of others rather than build their own value-creating platforms. There is nothing wrong with improving what exists but it is criminal to grab a novel idea and create an inexpensive clone through artificially cheap inputs. This behavior does not add value to society.  It is a variant of the unsustainable competitiveness model built around cost suppression.

To countries and enterprises that are too lazy to create genuine cost advantages, cost leadership is about running huge sweatshops, marginalizing workers, bleeding suppliers dry, and completely ignoring one’s responsibilities to the environment. The saddest thing is not that these countries and enterprises produce unsustainable growth. Rather, the saddest thing is that these countries and enterprises, with their intellectual sloth and opaque business styles, have the temerity to aspire for economic leadership and moral ascendancy in the global stage, often forgetting that the heft and size they have acquired does not entitle them to a general absolution of their crimes against humanity.

Steve Jobs stood for quality

Anyone who has used a Mac, an IPhone or an IPad does not need a snooty lecture on quality. Apple’s products sell themselves. Their intrinsic attributes speak eloquently of the Apple brand. In contrast, many countries and enterprises continue to pay lip service to quality.

To this day, it puzzles me why “branding” is a task that is assigned to public relations people and not to those who actually produce and deliver the product. A brand is not what an organization says about itself or its products. It is not even the impression that is momentarily created by the white lies spewed by an organization’s propagandists. A brand is the sum total of the feelings and emotions awakened in a person after his real-life encounter with a product or an organization. Some marketing experts call these encounters “moments of truth.”

Apple never had to breast-beat about the quality of its products; its customers did not have to be told what they were actually experiencing.

In contrast, a notorious laptop manufacturer recently engaged an extremely popular pound-for-pound boxing great to hype its products.  This is cute except that this manufacturer’s laptops have long been plagued by the problem of short-lived batteries and the company has done absolutely nothing to give its customers a less irritating experience.   The company has had four CEOs in four years, a clear testament to the confused state of affairs in the organization.

In another example, one country wasted so much time arguing about its tourism slogan when the real drivers of growth in tourism are not slogans and TV ads but real, memorable experiences that tourists can bring home and delightfully tell their friends about. When tourists cannot find enough hotel rooms, when they get severely inconvenienced at airports, when they get mugged or taken advantage of by petty criminals, when their vacation time is wasted in non-moving traffic and long flight delays, it does not matter that we all flash our toothiest smiles in “Wow” or “Kay Ganda” fashion.

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Steve Jobs stood for commitment

Apple continuously invests in research and development, taking extra care to understand the needs of its constituents. In contrast, many countries and enterprises change their programs and priorities as often as they change their leaders.

For example, a large company now finds it difficult to define its business because it has no strategy beyond just acquiring cheap companies, jazzing them up, and selling them a few years later for a huge profit. Its profit and loss statements in the last few years point to a mission-less enterprise that does nothing but buy and sell.

As a professor of Strategic Management, I am invariably asked, “Are there companies that don’t have a strategy?” My answer: “Yes, there are many companies that do not have a strategy. I know this partly from my   lengthy research into what many companies do. I also know this first-hand from my experience working with strategy-bereft companies. Is it my business if the owners of these companies run their business (sometimes to the ground) clueless about the future? Yes, it is my business because I am a citizen of this world and every business failure takes away from this world a lot of valuable resources that can otherwise feed its hungry and educate its ignorant population.

Steve Jobs stood for fairness

Apple’s products are always priced at the top of the market. Yet, its customers never complain of a rip-off. They get value for their money.  In contrast, many countries and enterprises are scammers.

In one congressional inquiry in North America, the top executives of a high-flying investment bank could not answer the simple question of whether they think they acted in the best interest of their customers.  Obviously, they didn’t. They painstakingly tried to convince the unconvinced legislators that there was no conflict of interest if a dry wall separated those who executed the buy orders of their customers from those who made huge bets against their customers.

In another example, a rating agency continues to ply its trade despite the shame and dishonor that it has heaped upon itself by giving the highest possible credit ratings to the subprime mortgages that drove the First World to bankruptcy. Recently, this rating agency whose standards are poor tried to regain some measure of credibility by downgrading the credit rating of a First World country because of political gridlock.  Applause! Applause!

But wait, didn’t everyone know about the political gridlock and the deep problems of this First World country long before this rating agency issued the downgrade? What are rating agencies supposed to do anyway?  Tell the investing world something that it already knows? Besides, isn’t a downgrade supposed to reflect a worsening of the overall economic prospects of a country or enterprise? Are we then to say that the prospects of this First World country are worse today when its problems have been fully acknowledged than three years ago when no one exactly knew the extent of the economic holocaust that was about to descend? It just doesn’t compute.

Steve Jobs was a positive thing for this world because he always saw his way clear where others couldn’t. He was an anti-toxin that neutralized the destructive forces of mindless enterprise in this world. Multiply Steve Jobs and you come closer to making this world what Michael Jackson called “a better place for you and for me.”

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is chairman of Maybridge (Asia) Inc. and past president of MAP. Feedback at [email protected] For previous articles, please visit www.map.org.ph.)

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