Five Leadership Lessons from Apple’s iPhone 7 Launch

Apple has done it again.

They aren’t afraid to sing Britney’s hit song in the 90s “Oops, I Did It Again.”

In fact, it seems to be part of their motto, and is their organisation’s modus operandi.

They thrive in an environment where every move they make disrupt existing industry standards.

With the launch of iPhone 7 today in the US, Apple ushered in a new era where the current industry standard of 3.5 mm headphone jack will soon be history, just as they have done repeatedly in the past with other existing industry standards:

  • They did it when they launched the iPod, challenging the previously industry standard held by Sony’s Walkman.
  • They did it again, when they first launched the iPhone, challenging the previously held assumptions that nobody wants a phone with full touch-screen experience.
  • They did the unthinkable again when they launched the iPad. I remember reading critics writing that it is such a “disappointment” soon after the launch. But the iPad has since gone on to become the world’s best-selling tablet computer.
  • Numerous other ground breaking changes that competitors eventually adapted, not avoid.

Apple’s media event for launching the new iPhone 7 came in the midst of wide speculation of the shocking decision to remove the headphone jack. And true enough, that rumor proved to be true. Apple’s new iPhone 7 was released with tons of new features with one notable missing component, the headphone jack.

Both social media users and news websites have not taken the news with the usual excitement that follows when Apple launch a new product.

The question that looms over every critics and supporters head out there is, not, will it work, but rather, will I adopt it, or will I avoid it? Apple has taken a stance with its decision and I absolutely believe that this is a decision that was not taken lightly. It is in fact, a decision that will change both the phone and music industry, forever.

Leaders are often required, and challenged to make decisions that will determine the direction of their team, or organisation they lead. Every decision we make can, and may make a lasting impact directly on the lives of the people we lead, and indirectly, the lives of the people in their life.

What can we learn from Apple’s groundbreaking launch in our own leadership journey?

  • Change is inevitable. Embrace it.
    The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, was once quoted, “Change is the only constant in life.” A leader can either be the victim of change or be the catalyst of change. I think you would agree with me that the latter is the better option. Apple has evidently embraced this principle for as long as I can remember.
  • Challenge every assumption. Challenge every status quo.
    It takes courage to change. It takes more courage to be different. It takes even more courage to be weird. But courage (with a healthy dose of weirdness) is the only thing setting apart people who dream of changing the world, with those who did. A great leader is never afraid of taking unconventional route.
  • Believe in the vision. And communicate it well.
    Apple has always lived and acted by a single-minded vision. It was first established by Steve Jobs, its late founder, simply “A computer for the rest of us”. This vision was then developed, rewritten and reiterated by the current CEO, Tim Cook. It is extremely important for an organisation, regardless of size or wealth, to continue to abide and live by its vision. This has always been clearly and restlessly communicated not only through what they produce, but also through the kind of support and customer service where Apple also excelled beyond all its competitors.
  • Be ready to fail. And get back up again.
    Not all products that Apple has made have gone on to become the best selling product in its category. It has made some embarrassing move in the past too, with its Apple Maps app for example. However, Apple is ready to embrace the mistakes made and learn from it to continue evolving and improving. A leader will inevitably fail and make mistakes, often. What will set the leader on a trajectory towards success is not reducing the number of mistakes made, but having the courage to admit the mistakes and learn from it.
  • Don’t just build an organisation, build a culture.
    What sets Apple apart from other organisation is its strong focus towards educating and imparting its company culture to all of its new employee. As a long time Apple customer and user of nearly every device Apple has ever made, I have had my fair share of troubles with some technical and some non-technical issues. I am always surprised by the level of focus and attention to detail with the goal of making your experience better, displayed by every employee at every level. It is nearly impossible for an organisation to have employee at every level making similar decision reflecting the company’s brand, unless it has a great underlying company culture.

I am not sure how well made was the decision to remove the 3.5 mm headphone jack by Apple but I can assure you that it is one that will bring an unprecedented change the world has never seen before. Your leadership journey may not require you to make a decision with that magnitude of an impact. However, you can make small changes with cascading domino effect that may change a person’s life, or even a small community forever. I believe some of the above principles will help you in your leadership journey.

What do you think? Was Apple making a good or bad changes with the removal of the 3.5 mm headphone jack from its latest iPhone release? Have you ever had to make an unpopular decision and how did you come out of it? Let me know in the comments.