Making a Ding in the Universe

Volume 10 Letter 11

Much has been written about Steve Jobs and about his accomplishments. Jobs once said he wanted to make a “ding” in the universe.1 It’s quite possible that he achieved his goal.

For all his brilliance it’s important to point out he had more than his share of challenges. It’s also important to highlight that many of his greatest creations were proudly “borrowed” from others. Most famously, the mouse and the windows operating system came from Xerox’s PARC research centre. The MP3 music player was already invented – the brilliance wasn’t the iPod music device; the brilliance was developing a hassle free (and legal) way of putting music on it.

I contend that what made Mr. Jobs so unique was his ability to represent the customer in the R&D and marketing departments. He was obsessed with making the experience with Apple products life enhancing rather than life hassling. He knew the secret to success – “no one cares what your product can do – they only care what your product can do for them”. Apply that axiom to your business, bake it into your strategy and market share and profit will be your reward. What really counts is that you’ll make a positive difference in people’s lives and I think that’s what Mr. Jobs would call a ding in the universe!

Here are a few lessons we can learn from Apple’s iconic leader2:

  1. Real Leaders know the difference between “Value” and “Price”. Many companies still use cost plus price. Stop denying your customers the satisfaction of paying for your product. Safe to say Apple products don’t sell on price. Do you price on value or cost plus?
  2. Real Leaders know customers cannot tell you what they really need! You don’t need market research to tell you that customers want faster and cheaper.
  3. Real Leaders know marketing is about providing unique value – Do this: Draw a 2×2 matrix. Label the Y axis “How much your product differs from the competition”. Label the X axis “Value of your product to customers” Now plot your products!
    1. Bottom right: Good value but nothing unique�be ready to compete on price.
    2. Top left: Unique but it brings no value, so you’ll get 100% of nothing.
    3. Bottom left: No value and not unique � start looking for another job.
    4. Top right: Unique and Valuable � charge a premium and dominate the market
  4. Real Leaders know it doesn’t matter what your product can do – what counts is what your product can do for your customer! Go to an Apple store. Tell one of the Apple associates you’re a musician. Go back later in the day and tell them you’re a graphic artist. You’ll get two very different product demonstrations on the same computer. Does your sales team show how your products can create a better future?
  5. Real Leaders deliver on time! Time is the enemy of innovation – that gap between a great idea and a delivered product. Engineering-centric companies know this and work hard to deliver new products fast! Research-centric companies gather patents and produce great papers. Which company are you: Apple or Xerox PARC?
  6. Real Leaders deliver change: When you’re pushing for unique products, demanding premium prices and expecting them to be shipped on time you’re going to run into some opposition. Not everyone will believe. Changing the world starts with changing a few minds! “Does your strategy change minds?”
  7. Real Leaders recognize when they’re wrong: Steve Jobs has made his share of mistakes (The Lisa, Apple TV etc). Risk, reward and failure are intertwined – if they weren’t, business would be no fun! Pride has no place in the decision making process. It’s not IF you’ll be wrong but WHEN you are, what you do about it?

Margaret Mead said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world… for indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”.3Thank you Steve Jobs for being a thoughtful committed citizen, and leaving a ding in our universe!


1. Steve Jobs once said he wanted to leave a “Ding” in the Universe.
2. See Guy Kawasaki “What I learned from Steve Jobs?”
3. Quote from Margret Mead

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