Do the Impossible

Apple_gray_logoToday I had the good fortune to speak with George Blankenship at Fund Forum International 2015. In his long and storied career he has been a key customer experience architect at Gap, Apple, Microsoft and, most recently, Tesla Motors. During his presentations today, he took his audience inside Apple and Tesla to look at the ways of working and, more importantly, the ways of thinking that have made both of these companies such groundbreakers.

Blankenship was recruited from Gap by Steve Jobs to help Apple launch its retail stores. Until that time, Apple products were sold by people who were not Apple employees in places that were not owned or managed by Apple.  Before designing what became the phenomenally successful Apple retail approach, Blankenship went out into the field to observe their potential customer in the wild.  He discovered that most customers came into computer shops knowing that they wanted to buy any computer except an Apple computer.  To their mind, Apple computers were for oddballs, not for regular people. So the first challenge was to help customers actually get to know the real Apple and, along the way, develop an understanding of how an Apple computer might in reality be a good choice for them. To do this, Blankenship and his team decided to “ambush” potential customers in their natural habitat at times when they were not thinking about buying computers.  This meant creating stores in malls that might catch their attention as they walked by on their intended errand to another store.

As they came to know their potential customers, Apple came to understand better than the customer what would delight the customer. As a result, they were able to create products and services that customers did not even know they wanted.

How did they create this want? According to Blankenship, it was because of Apple’s strict fidelity to four key principles:

  • innovation
  • design
  • simplicity
  • the ownership experience

Having designed great products, the next challenge was to actually reach the customer.  For Blankenship, reaching the retail customer is easy if you do four things:

  • design great space
  • hire great people
  • treat them well
  • turn them loose on the public

Even if you do not aspire to overturn Apple’s dominant position in retail, you can learn lessons from Apple about how it rigorously develops its products and services, cultivates its staff and delights its customers.  You can also learn from Apple’s incredible focus and resolve. In Blankenship’s words, “Don’t let anyone get in your way when you know that the thing you are doing is the right thing to do.”

Blankenship left us with the following challenge:  “Things always seem impossible…until someone does it.”  Apple has redefined the retail experience, the mobile experience, the music experience, the babysitting experience.  Someday someone will redefine the funds industry or the legal industry. Will that someone be Apple or you?

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