Why Sony can’t compete against Apple (or why you should always say no to compromise)

sonyceoJust saw a terrific forum post where someone encapsulated the essence of why Apple stuff is good, and why the competitors — such as Sony — have so much trouble replicating it:

“I think it’s the fault of a ‘design by committee’ mentality more than anything. Few companies have the equivalent of Apple’s structure, where Steve Jobs (who has good instincts when it comes to physical design and UIs) just rolls on into the meeting and hollars, “That SUCKS! FIX IT!”… and then they do.

Nearly everywhere else, you have to keep everyone happy. The result is ‘groupthink’ mediocre products.”

Having worked in the past for Coles Myer corporate affairs, I have seen how extraordinarily hamstrung the company was by groupthink bureaucracy. If ever there was a company that ended up with the lowest common denominator result on almost every metric, it would have to have been Coles Myer.

They were big on the talk about innovation and big ideas, but if anyone actually had a good idea, it would usually get workshopped, sent up the approval chain and down again, found not to be a strategically good idea for the whole corporation (even if it would do wonders for one particular Coles Myer business) and ultimately may be implemented in some limp, hobbled, destined-to-fail-from-the-outset way.

I am absolutely convinced that a reasonable amount of one-person driven decision-making is necessary in producing quality products — in any industry.

If there’s one thing that I do like about Telstra’s new management, it’s that the top two execs (Trujillo, Winn) aren’t letting group-think bureaucracy get in their way. You have to hand that to them, despite the fact that virtually everything else about them is completely objectionable.

I love working where I am now — ACP Magazines — because it’s absolutely not hamstrung by bureaucracy. Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t know, but ACP runs each magazine as a separate business unit, with a lot of decision making done within each magazine team. As a result, the group generally gets very good results across the board, because magazine teams can act on good ideas without burdensome approval processes (though there’s a helpful level of oversight and coordination around things like HR and IT).

My absolute favourite advertising campaign of all time (yes, more favourite than the Volkswagen Pink Moon ad) is BMW’s “we say no” campaign.

“Was anything truly extraordinary ever achieved by compromise?” reads the ad. “In a word, no.”

bmwno

“Because we can say no to compromise we can say yes to other things, such as building our vehicles with 50/50 weight distribution for superior handling and control, despite the fact that it costs more to build them that way. It’s thousands of little things like this that separate BMW from other car companies. By maintaining our autonomy and ability to say no, we can make sure great ideas live on to become ultimate driving machines.

no-bmw-small

Although I don’t particularly like BMW cars (I’m more a Volkswagen man, myself) BMW’s ad campaign encapsulates my philosophy to my core: don’t compromise, even if it sometimes (or often) offends people. Compromise keeps people happy in the short term but guarantees a poor result in the long term.

Simon Hackett, Managing Director of Internode has to be one of the best examples of this. He has preserved Internode’s status as the quality internet company because he hasn’t succumbed to temptation to make himself very rich by floating the company. Instead, he’s kept it 100% privately owned, which means he doesn’t have to justify his decisions to roll out the best network equipment and buy more capacity than he might immediately need. One person calling the shots can see the long-term benefits of certain decisions; shareholders often can’t.

“We say no to compromise so we can say yes to good ideas” — BMW.

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4 Replies to “Why Sony can’t compete against Apple (or why you should always say no to compromise)”

  1. I still remember being at the Macworld keynote shortly after Jobs rejoined Apple, the one where he said “focus means saying no”, or words to that affect…

    (Could find the exact words using Google.)

    It was the keynote where Jobs basically gave the audience a ‘mini MBA’, ranging from why some people own four Swatches to why Dell, at that point, had the fewest days inventory in the industry. The subtext: “Trust me, I can fix this company.”

    Jobs’ definition of focus stuck with me. It’s true.

  2. I still remember being at the Macworld keynote shortly after Jobs rejoined Apple, the one where he said “focus means saying no”, or words to that affect…

    (Could find the exact words using Google.)

    It was the keynote where Jobs basically gave the audience a ‘mini MBA’, ranging from why some people own four Swatches to why Dell, at that point, had the fewest days inventory in the industry. The subtext: “Trust me, I can fix this company.”

    Jobs’ definition of focus stuck with me. It’s true.

  3. "Simon Hackett, Managing Director of Internode has to be one of the best examples of this. He has preserved Internode's status as the quality internet company because he hasn't succumbed to temptation to make himself very rich by floating the company. Instead, he's kept it 100% privately owned, which means he doesn't have to justify his decisions to roll out the best network equipment and buy more capacity than he might immediately need."
    Yep, even Google did it's IPO using dual class stock, which means Page, Brin, and Schmidt keeps control.
    "One person calling the shots can see the long-term benefits of certain decisions; shareholders often can't."
    I know! Have you heard of short-termism? It is a big problem of Wall Street. Google it and you will find a lot on this problem

  4. "Simon Hackett, Managing Director of Internode has to be one of the best examples of this. He has preserved Internode's status as the quality internet company because he hasn't succumbed to temptation to make himself very rich by floating the company. Instead, he's kept it 100% privately owned, which means he doesn't have to justify his decisions to roll out the best network equipment and buy more capacity than he might immediately need."
    Yep, even Google did it's IPO using dual class stock, which means Page, Brin, and Schmidt keeps control.
    "One person calling the shots can see the long-term benefits of certain decisions; shareholders often can't."
    I know! Have you heard of short-termism? It is a big problem of Wall Street. Google it and you will find a lot on this problem

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