Apple, Iteration, Hard Work, and Success

The new iPhone 5 looks nice.[1]

A lot of people are going to criticize Apple and condemn the new iPhone over the next few weeks. I think you’ll see a lot of stories similar to Dan Lyons' piece[2] for the BBC, “Apple’s iPhone launches no longer excite.” There will be lots of screaming in forums about the iPhone 5’s lack of NFC as well as other technologies that nobody outside of a small circle of gadget geeks is currently using. Here’s why I think these detractors are wrong and should be ignored.

Imagine a pro athlete at the top of their game, maybe an olympian. How did they reach that level of achievement? They didn’t waste time with activities that weren’t related to their success, like watching TV. They stayed focused. They woke up early. They sacrificed time with their friends. They did the hard work they needed to do to get where they wanted to go. They didn’t get successful over night.

When these athletes started to get better they didn’t let it go to their head. They didn’t start going out all night. They didn’t start watching TV. When they arrived at the elite levels of their sport they kept doing the small things they had to do every day to stay competitive. They stayed focused on a very small subset of tasks that would help them be immediately successful while slowly adjusting their practice regime to align themselves for future success. We only see elite athletes competing on TV in big events but imagine how much more time they spend alone in a pool, on an ice rink, in a gym, practicing and preparing to get better far outside the eyes of the media.

This is the approach Apple takes. They don’t build one-off products. They set a baseline level of success with the first revision of a product and then obsessively improve on that product over time. They maintain razor-sharp focus. Apple only implements new features when the majority of their users can and will use them.

Everybody loves the story of an overnight success because it gives us all the impression that we can just be whisked away from our regular lives by some magical event.[3] The reality is that success comes from a lot of hard work that happens behind the scenes. There are no montages in real life. Apple employees might feel good the night after shipping a product but their continued success comes from realizing that the hardest work is yet to come . You only get one first impression and no matter how good it is you can’t coast on that one experience forever. You also can’t change the world every year and there’s really no need to do so.

People often think they are working hard when, in reality, they aren’t.[4] Many people reach a certain level of success and then stop doing the things that made them successful. Apple does the hard work and keeps doing the hard work. A disciplined, iterative, approach will always succeed given time.

  1. I may be immediately labeled an Apple fanboy by some people for this post. That’s fine. If you are the kind of person that applies the label of fanboy to people who like Apple products you’re probably not somebody that can have a rational discussion with someone that disagrees with you and I really don’t care what you think.  ↩

  2. More like link-bait.  ↩

  3. Apple gives us that feeling from time to time when they introduce an industry defining product like the original iPad.  ↩

  4. If you don’t listen to Merlin Mann’s Back to Work podcast, you should. It’s worth going back through the entire archive of the show from the beginning. The idea of “doing the hard work you need to do to get where you want to go” is discussed heavily in some of the early episodes.  ↩