It’s easy to be dismissive of Apple’s success because it is the most over-told and exhausted technology story of all time. And I’m as tired as anyone of hearing the same tired cliches about why Steve Jobs was the world’s greatest CEO, and how he told everyone to “think different“, but little is often told of the first time he actually did “think different“.
In the very early stages of Apple (before the Mac or the mouse were a thing), one of the biggest problems with computers where that they were big, noisy and ugly. People forget that one of the key innovations of Apple came from the Apple II, the computer that actually launched Apple, based upon Steve job’s decision that it should the quiet.
Steve’s conviction resulted, in part, from all the time he’d spent studying zen and meditating. He found the noise of a computer distracting. So Jobs was determined that the Apple II would have no fan, which was a fairly radical notion at the time. Nobody else had questioned the need for a fan because all computers required a fan to prevent overheating. getting rid of the fan wouldn’t be possible without a different type of power supply that generated less heat.
So Jobs went on the hunt for someone who could design a new power supply. Through his network of contacts, he found Rod Holt, a forty-something, chain-smoking socialist from Atari. Pushed by jobs, Holt abandoned the fifty-year-old conventional linear unit technology and created a switching power supply that revolutionised the way power was delivered to electronics products. Jobs’s pursuit of quiet and Holt’s ability to deliver an innovative power supply that didn’t need a fan made the Apple II the quietest and smallest personal computer ever made (a smaller computer was possible because it didn’t need extra space for the fan).
Had Jobs never asked, “Why does a computer need a fan?” and “How do we keep a computer cool without a fan?” the Apple computer as we know it would not exist.
It’s a great story.
But why does this matter to you?
Hopefully you’ve already seen Simon Sinek telling us to “ask why?” in his brilliant TED talk. (If you haven’t watch it NOW). Another business leader I admire, Tony Robbins, is forever encouraging entrepreneurs to ask “why” seven times.
In a leadership session with Tony that I was fortunate to attend in 2014, Tony Robbins challenged a world-famous CEO. He asked him a question that went something like “why do you do ______ ?” and got the standard stock answer. He then asked “why is that the case?” and got a slightly more expanded answer. The third time he asked “why” he started to receive a more interesting answer and by the 7th time, he got to to the root of exactly what the real issue was.
I have heard it said that business executives ask why around 5-7 times per month. Primary school kids ask “why” up to 15 times per day.
Who do you think learns more?