Steve Wozniak: From Computer-less To Apple Genius
Recently, I had the privilege of attending 'The World of Business Ideas' Conference in Milan as a guest of our fantastic corporate partner - IBM. Whilst the calibre of speakers was excellent and the conference itself was highly interesting, there was one name that stood out in particular - Steve Wozniak of Apple. Whilst Steve Jobs was the name synonymous with Apple, the technology behind the so-called 'Apple revolution' was can largely be attributed to Wozniak's enthusiasm and ethos, which holds many lessons for budding entrepreneurs and businesspeople alike.
Apple has successfully organized the Ecosystem Economics™ of its sector – incentivizing consumers, retailers and developers alike through its functional, beautiful and revolutionary products. Its interactions of products with a consumer-centric focus have created economic impetus for the use of their technologies, ensuring that Apple remains a digital power and leads in technology markets. Steve Wozniak's story is about how this success has been driven.
Incredibly, Wozniak was unable to afford his own computer as a child. Yet an engineering genius developed through a fascination for what was an emerging and exciting revolution. This ignited his desire to create a computer 'accessible to everyone' – flawless in both design and in functionality – attributes that many would agree have been largely achieved across the Apple product range, and goals that have inspired Wozniak's entrepreneurial journey. Wozniak was brought up with his father telling him never to lie, ethics which in his words make him a 'bad business leader'. But that may have been Wozniak's biggest success in leading him into the technological design side of business. Whilst lying was never an option, Wozniak was known for using technology to prank his elders!
In 1971, Wozniak was introduced to Steve Jobs, who had a huge influence on both his personal and professional life. When establishing their Apple partnership, Jobs immediately assumed the role of business leader whilst Wozniak focused on the technical development of Apple's world-renowned products – driven both by Wozniak's personality and his fascination with new technologies that exhibited the potential for ecosystem disruption. Their varied expertise highlights the value of teamwork and complimentary skill sets – the importance of organizing a business around individual strengths and the crucial role that correct management has to play.
Wozniak was more than just a team-player with his founding partner however. He shared the majority of his stock with the first group of Apple employees. As has been exemplified by companies such as John Lewis, the ethos of owning a part of a company is seen as important for personal investment into the endeavor. To Wozniak, the team was centrally important and his actions have reflected this understanding throughout his illustrious career. Human capital is vitally important in the workings of any successful business.
Wozniak postulated that the corporate 'Goliaths' today are missing out on new and exciting ways to innovate. He believes that the way to forge innovation is to nurture a small team and allow them to develop new ideas – providing creative freedom and allowing for expression. He acknowledges the 'innovators dilemma', which points towards companies focusing on the present market and sales as opposed to future consumer wants and needs. Cannibalizing your own revenue is better than letting a competitor do it, he argues. Apple was a success because it always had eyes on the road ahead, focusing on ways to improve their products and tailor them to emergent market trends.
When questioned about Apple and whether it had lost its original passion for innovation, Wozniak dismissed the contention, showcasing the iPhone 6 as an example of pure innovation. Apple's consumer-centric model has for years led to growth of their dedicated and loyal consumer base, demonstrating the necessity of organizing the Ecosystem Economics™ of business sectors. Apple has always been a leader in innovation, which is why the likelihood is that they will be at the top of the food chain for years to come.
Wozniak argued that Apple's success has come from open innovation platforms rather than closed in-house processes. Some of the driving forces behind the Apple juggernaut have been iTunes and the App Store – both platforms that are famous with musicians and developers alike for the possibilities and freedom provided to them. Developers are provided the space and tools to operate and exhibit their creative freedoms, indicating the importance of the innovation network that is facilitated by Apple.
Wozniak's keynote was wholly inspiring and gave the audience a glimpse into the mind of a genius. He is a man who is not only staggeringly intelligent, but also honest, refreshing and generous. With the launch of the Apple Watch in early 2015, the world is eagerly awaiting Apple's latest innovations and its step in to a whole new ecosystem. Can it organize the Ecosystem Economics™ of the wearable technology sector, as it has done so successfully elsewhere?