odd time signatures

Lessons President Obama can learn from Steve Jobs

It’s me again, Mr. President. I’m really happy David Plouffe is back in the mix full-time. I think he’s an asset and if nothing else, will start to sort out all of the weirdly mixed messages we’re receiving via rumor, press release, and speeches. Still, I’ve got a couple of ideas for you to consider.

I really wish you’d defy convention and embargo the bullet points of your State of the Union address. Look at what’s happening with the Apple announcement. Yes, there are some leaks. There has been speculation for months. All true. But Steve Jobs did not invite tech bloggers and the press into his office and give them a full preview of what he plans to unveil on Wednesday. This is a good thing. As a general rule, Apple new product announcements deliver more than the rumors promise. When the iPhone was announced 3 years ago, we all knew there would be a phone announced. None of us had a clue as to how cool it was or what a game changer it would be until the announcement was made and the product demo’d.

There’s a lesson there. Jobs seems to have mastered the art of the build without giving away the pitch, and when he delivers the actual product, it is innovative, beautiful, and everyone wants one, even the contrarians who snort in public and confess behind closed doors that it really, really is innovative.

Sure, the iPhone had problems when it was finally available. But the problems were absolutely nothing compared to the joy on Robert Scoble’s face when he walked out of the Apple Store with a brand-spanking new iPhone after waiting all night in line. The negatives were far outweighed by the positives, which were much more intangible than the fact of the phone itself. That all-night wait for the long-awaited iPhone was a moment of shared anticipation.

Here are some takeaways from that event and the lead-in to this week’s announcements, which apply as much to policy announcements as they do to product announcements:

  • Apple fans are loyal fans. They anticipate Apple innovation and Steve Jobs’ product announcements like children wait for Santa Claus. They’re eager to be pleased.
  • Much of Apple’s loyal base stems from their ability to innovate, to improve something, even products which are already available. Lots of people have Kindles. Lots of people have tablets with Windows operating systems. Lots of people have iPhones. But no one has a device that is elegant, useful, stimulates creativity and breaks new ground. That’s where Apple excels.
  • Apple makes no apology for higher-priced products than their competition. They stand by their product as being innovative and game-changing. They’re uncompromising about details and decisions. Making the iPhone exclusive to AT&T isn’t the most popular decision they’ve made, but hey — it certainly didn’t kill sales by any stretch.
  • Even when Apple fans are critical of certain product features, they’re willing to wait for a second release, or a software update, or whatever tweaks may be in the pipeline, and they’re willing to sacrifice perfection for innovation.

This is worth your attention, Mr. President. Frankly, pulling in the White House press pool to brief them on a budget freeze policy for 2011 when the economy is still rocky, everyone loves to hate Ben Bernanke, and health care reform is on the ropes is not really a gesture of confidence. Following the Apple analogy, it feels a little bit like Apple PR sending around a preview of the Apple tablet with only the Windows operating system on it and leaking the fact that users will have to pay Microsoft a monthly fee to only use Bing for search. Counter-intuitive and backwards.

Keep in mind, I’m not criticizing the policy itself, mostly because I can’t even start bending my head around where you’re going with it or how it changes the game. It feels like something I’d hear in a Republican’s State of the Union address with John Boehner leading the ovation. Maybe it’s not, but my point is, you’re not giving me anything to stand up and cheer about.

Let me try this another way. Those of us who have spilled blood, sweat and tears over health care reform felt completely betrayed by the blue dogs and Evan Bayh’s willingness to toss the baby out with the bathwater more than once. Many of us view their behavior as disloyal and undercutting to a fresh, innovative, progressive effort to reform health care. The public option was as symbolic as the backlit Apple on my laptop. When Lieberman and the Blue Dogs killed it, they sent a message that my pretty MacBook was just another boring PC, not worth much extra effort.

Bottom line: I don’t want you to cater to Evan Bayh. I want some bold, game-changing innovation and that means you’ve got to sell it. Do you understand why the public option was popular, even in its final anemic, ineffective form? Because it was an innovation, it was a gesture to your base that they weren’t going to have to be slaves to insurance companies. It was, in many ways, a game-changer instead of the same old thing wrapped up in a shinier case.

Your campaign was bold. It innovated. But that innovation is now so 2008. Shoot, the teapeople are all over that social media thing. They can roll out a teaparty site in an hour, a community in two, resplendent with a couple of hundred electro-members from a created list and a bot on Twitter.

To progress, you need to innovate. To move this economy ahead, you need to innovate. We need you to put your broadband hat on and ditch the dialup. This is a time to lead with gamechangers, not repackaging old stuff in new boxes. So can we get some of that, please?

I represent your loyal base. I believe in you. I believe in what you want to do, and I want to sell it for you just like Robert Scoble sold a zillion iPhones with his enthusiasm and appreciation for what Apple did.

Give me that much, ok?

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