The Epiphany That Saved Apple and How it Can Help You

Len WilsonCulture, Marketing, TechnologyLeave a Comment

S teve Jobs’ biography tells a great story about the planning of the first Apple retail stores. Prior to the Apple stores, Apples were sold through mail order and online, and in the back corner of retail computer stores that made most of their money on Windows-based machines. Buying an Apple wasn’t nearly as much fun as owning an Apple. Job’s vision for the retail store was to control the entire experience from company to end user.

To create the stores, Jobs hired Steve Johnson, the man who had transformed Target in the 1990s. As author Walter Isaacson tells the story, Johnson almost had the prototype store completed when, late one night, he awoke with an epiphany. There was a fundamental problem with the store’s construction. He and his team had been organizing displays around product lines: iBook, iMac, PowerBook, and so on. He realized that they should also organize the store around things that people want to do, like make a movie or listen to music.

This simple thought changed Apple’s fundamental relationship with its customers and helped launch it to prominence in the 2000s.

Why does this matter?

We naturally approach an idea based on what it is, its unique features, and so on. We categorize the idea and present it in nice sections with headers and subheaders. We even do this with spiritual products and services, in ministry – we organize ministries around features: missions, worship, and so on. And to some degree this is necessary. But there are limits to this approach. Namely, it’s all about the idea.

Here’s a fundamental truth:

People don’t care about your idea. They care about how it impacts them.

In the book, Johnson told Jobs his idea that a bay in the Apple Store would have systems playing iMovie, showing people how if they bought an Apple, they could easily edit movies, too. Jobs hated the concept at first because of the eleventh-hour revisions it necessitated, but within minutes Jobs realized that Johnson was right. He told his team to redo the entire layout of the store, even though it would delay launch for months.[1]

 I know you have a thousand ideas for all the cool features iTunes could have. So do we. But we don’t want a thousand features. That would be ugly. Innovation is not about saying yes to everything. It’s about saying no to all but the most crucial features. -Steve Jobs[2]

Tech companies are particularly bad at what I call “solutions with problems.” Everything from computers to televisions to music players are loaded with features that no one can figure out how to use, much less learn to need. In its January 2013 issue, Wired magazine lamented the state of the television manufacturing industry by noting an engineering-driven rush to ever high resolution, when all people want to do is figure out how to find a favorite show.

One of the big selling points this year will (again) be so-called smart TV. By connecting your set ot the Internet and app-ifying it, the promise goes, all the problems of how to watch will be solved. But this completely misses the point. Let’s say you want to watch the latest episode of Breaking Bad. Quick: Where do you go? Hulu Plus? Netflix Streaming? Amazon Instant Video? Xfinity on Demand? And how do you get there? Via an embedded function in your PS3? Apple TV? Roku? Something else? We need to be able to decide that we want to watch something and have it just appear, right where we left off, regardless of whether it’s coming from cable or Internet. It shouldn’t take a genius to watch smart TV.[3]

Can you relate?

Most technology is enigma wrapped in a riddle to use. Only computer nerds like me fool with it and even I’m getting sick of it. The article goes on to mention that everyone is hoping Apple will solve the problem, based on a cryptic remark in the Steve Jobs biography that he’d “cracked it.”

Here’s a shocking thought: Most ministry is something only church nerds want to fool with. We wonder why less people come to church. What if we were to change how we craft the user experience so people can understand the benefit they’ll receive from spiritual engagement? How do we “crack it”?

It doesn’t start with methods and techniques. It starts with something more fundamental. Something that applies to anyone who has a message to send. What if instead of putting all of our energy into our features, we instead focused on helping people easily understand the benefit of our message?

People only change their behavior when they see a clear benefit. 

Do you agree or disagree? Post a response below.


[1] Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011, p. 373.
[2] As attributed to a private iTunes store presentation meeting, June 2003.
[3] “Watch and Wait.” Matt Honan, WIRED Magazine. January 2013. p. 50.


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Len Wilson

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