ONE QUESTION?

February 2017 will mark the 20th anniversary of Steve Jobs returning to Apple when the company was just 3 months away from bankruptcy. Over the next 14 years he would miraculously turn Apple into the world’s most valuable brand and in doing so, cement his position as the world’s greatest turnaround CEO.

Jobs will be remembered for many things, but I will always remember him for ONE thing. It’s a story that I’ve heard from several people, some of whom were actually there. It was the moment when Jobs walked into a marketing meeting, shortly after re-joining the brand that he created 21 years earlier with Woz, and unveiled his plans for the future of Apple.

Without saying a word he walked up to a large whiteboard and wrote one sentence on it, followed by two intersecting lines.

“We will provide relevant and compelling solutions that customers can only get from Apple”.

That statement alone set out his goal for Apple in a clear and compelling way that everyone could get behind. The simple idea that if Apple could communicate the things that made Apple better than everybody else, then they would win. At the time Apple had over 35 core products. He would reduce it down to just 4 key product lines.

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The world’s most valuable whiteboard session.

Steve loved communicating big ideas simply. And he loved intersecting lines that could tell a compelling story. When asked by a journalist why he came back to Apple, he explained (using two lines) that he loved Apple because it “existed at the very intersection of humanity and technology”. I was speaking at a conference in Berlin a couple of years ago with Jobs’ ex-creative director Ken Segall and I asked him if Steve actually he said that, and he told me that he certainly did, but he often used the phrase “liberal arts and technology”.

There are two things that we can learn from this story, since it encapsulates one of the greatest moments in the history of modern business.

  1. Steve knew exactly what needed to be done to turn Apple around.
  2. He knew exactly how he needed to make people feel in order to make that happen.

Anything that needs to get done can be reduced down to these two things.

Decades earlier, one of the world’s first data scientists W. Edwards Deming (a superb man worth reading about who was credited with the explosive growth of Ford in the 60’s) was explaining to an MBA class in Japan about how to get things done. Challenged by a student about the need to just do your best, Deming replied

“It’s not enough to do your best, you must know what to do and then do your best”.

Years later in 1997, the same year that Jobs returned to Apple, American poet Maya Angelou was writing about how to get things done. She was remembering the most valuable lessons she had ever learned during her life when she wrote,

“I’ve learned that… people will forget what you said… what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”.

All these great people were talking about logic and emotion.

The head and the heart.

Knowing what to do and understanding how to make people feel something.

So, as I reflect on 2016, I am reminded of the biggest things I’ve learned this year. The need to communicate one thing simply and effectively, and to make people feel something strongly enough that they want to share it or do something about it. It’s been a big year of big decisions for many people and countries. It’s been a year where people have been acting (and voting) with their heads and their hearts. Although often not at the same time.

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A key moment in 2016 for me was at a wonderful conference I spoke at in November called ONE QUESTION where I was sharing the story of that Steve Jobs marketing session. I shared with the audience the audio from that session, which also appears in this video

I presented what I thought was a compelling presentation, full of relevant industry insights, future trends, inspirational stories and thought provoking quotes. Even the slides looked really pretty…

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So what was the problem?

I shared too many ideas. I made people feel too many things. The audience apparently loved the session, but some of them didn’t know which bit to “point at”. There was so much good stuff in there. Too much. By over-sharing and trying too hard to give everything to the people in that room, my key message around the intersection of AI and humanity got lost.

It always bothers me when I feel like a presentation didn’t go as well as I hoped, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what I should have done differently for the last two months. I’m pleased I did as it’s led me to a bit of an epiphany. I needed my own whiteboard moment!

So turning to my notebook, and inspired by the things I learned from one of my favourite books of the year ONE THING, I drew two lines with the words PERSONAL, PROFESSIONAL, HEAD, HEART in each quadrant.

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I realised that all I ever need to do in the future when I am speaking to an audience of any size, is ask myself two questions:

  1. What ONE THING will the audience remember tomorrow morning?
  2. What EMOTION will my words make them feel?

Knowing that we make decisions with our hearts but justify them with our heads, I put PERSONAL and PROFESSIONAL because we are all driven by different things at different times. The things I am driven by at home affect that decisions that I make at work and vice-versa. We have all got personal goals (not all of which we share) which determine our behavior and desire to embrace change, but it is usually those personal values and goals which affect our ability to make strong decisions professionally.

 

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” Benjamin Franklin

 

When I think about all of my favourite presenters (from Simon Sinek and Bryan Stevenson to Brian Cox and Seth Godin), they all inform and inspire me in different ways, and make me feel strong emotions in one way or another. This is why I love Chris Anderson’s TED book, because it goes behind the scenes on how the best TED talks manage to make people laugh or cry, get angry, excited or inspired. (Yes even business presentations should have the capacity to make you laugh or cry).

 

Upon reflection, if I prepared each of my future presentations with those questions in mind ALL the time, I think the audience reaction would be quite different.

“In the end, people are persuaded not by what you say, but by what they undwerstand”. John C. Maxwell.

My last post (Shape of the Perfect Keynote) talked about the emotions behind keynotes received quite a lot of attention. I received hundreds of messages which made me realise that this really is a subject close to many people’s hearts. But this simple matrix, these two little lines, I think will help me make my stories much more powerful in 2017 than they were in 2016.

In that post, you may remember that the shape of my perfect keynote had two key messages. One around technology (Slides 7-9 for the head – focused on our professional minds), and one around people or customers (Slides 11-13 for the heart – focus on a much more personal message).

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One thing I discovered by using Watson to analyse all my keynotes was that knowing what to leave out of a presentation, is far more important than what I leave in.

“I’m more proud of the things we didn’t do than I am of what we did”. Steve Jobs

So my resolution for 2017 is that it should be a year of saying “No”. No to too many slides, to complicated explanations, to dull presentations, to boring product pitches and to stories that don’t inspire anyone.

It doesn’t matter whether your audience is a small meeting room or a huge conference hall. If we would all break down even our most complicated presentations into simple bite-sized chunks that rested on ONE IDEA or ONE EMOTION, something that touched us PERSONALLY as well as PROFESSIONALLY, I think the business world would be a much better place for all of us.

Here’s to 2017, a year where (hopefully) we can all inspire people with better stories.

“Whoever tells the best stories goes home with the most marbles”.

LINKS

 

Ps. The sad irony is that these reflections were inspired by George Michael, someone who made a lot of people feel a lot of things. I’ve been a big fan since the 80’s and I was listening to his album Ladies and Gentlemen just a few weeks before his death. It’s a double album that has the tracks listed and organized in a very specific way. The first disc just says ~ “For the Head”. The second disc, “For the heart”. The stories of George’s secret generosity since his death have inspired a lot of people. He was a complex character, but more than most, he understood that we make decisions with our hearts, but we need to justify them with our heads.

STEVE JOBS ~ MARKETING SESSION [FULL TRANSCRIPT]

“To me, marketing is about values. It is a very complicated world. It’s a very noisy world and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is! And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us. Now Apple, fortunately is one of the best brands in the world, right up there with Nike, Disney, Coke, Sony. It is one of the greats of the greats. Not just in this country, but all around the globe. But even a great brand needs investment and caring, if it’s going to retain it’s relevance and vitality. And the Apple brand has clearly suffered from neglect in this area in the last few years ~ and we need to bring it back.

The way to do that is not to talk about speeds and fees. It’s not to talk about bits and mega-hertz. It’s not to talk about why we are better than windows.

The dairy industry tried for 20 years to convince you that milk was good for you. It’s a lie, but they tried anyway! And sales were falling. And then they tried “Got milk” and the sales went up. Got milk doesn’t even talk about the product. In fact it focuses on the absence of the product. But the best example of all, and one of the greatest jobs of marketing that the universe has ever seen is Nike. Remember, Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes! And yet when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company.

In their ads as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product. They don’t ever talk about their air soles and why they are better than Reebok’s air soles. What does Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes and they honor great athletics. That’s who they are, that’s what they are about.

Apple spends a fortune on advertising. You’d never know it. You’d never know it! So when I got here, Apple just fired their agency and there was a competition with 23 agencies that in 4 years from now we’d pick one, and we blew that up and we hired Chiat/Day. The ad agency that I was fortunate enough to work with years ago who created some award winning work, including the commercial voted the best ad ever made, 1984 by advertising professionals. And, we started working about 8 weeks ago and the question we asked was…

Our customers want to know who is Apple and what is it that we stand for?

Where do we fit in this world?

What we’re about isn’t making boxes for people to get their jobs done, although we do that well. We do that better than almost anybody, in some cases. But Apple is about something more than that. Apple at the core, it’s core value ~ is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.

That’s what we believe.

And we have had the opportunity to work with people like that, we’ve had the opportunity to work with people like you, with software developers, with customers, who have done it, in some big and some small ways. And we believe that in this world, people can change it for the better. And that those people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones that actually do.

And so, what we’re going to do in our first brand marketing campaign for several years is to get back to that core value. A lot of things have changed. The market is a in a totally different place than it was a decade ago. And Apple is totally different. And Apple’s place in it is totally different. And believe me the products, and the distribution strategy, the manufacturing are totally different and we understand that ~ but values and core values, those things shouldn’t change. The things that Apple believed in at its core, are the same things that Apple really stands for today”.

Steve Jobs, 1997.

Evangelist @IBM • IBM Watson • Travel Around Talking about AI, Big Data and the Future of Marketing • Lover of Old Business Books and Good Bourbon • Based in London, UK.

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