Is "good" an absolute or does it change over time? We are creatures of habit and tradition; in general what was true yesterday is true today and will be true tomorrow. This especially applies to the things we value, and while most "goods" do and should endure, there are some that don't, and some that shouldn't.
Often these "goods" are benchmarks or measures that say things should be done tomorrow the way they were done yesterday. But is "good" good enough this time? For example:
- We expect medical interns to work extended hours because the doctors that came before did. This despite studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, and other publications that prove that this does not improve learning or develop skills, and worse, actually harms patients!
- We want our kids to do as much or more homework than we did, despite studies that show that it does not lead to meaningful learning. We believe in measuring student performance in the same way we did a generation ago, despite the data that shows that the ability to do well in a test has no correlation to success in the world or to personal achievement or happiness.
- We base current business models on the past despite the fact that the (business) world has changed fundamentally, what worked yesterday is absolutely not guaranteed to work today, and that the world tomorrow will be different yet again.
We fear tomorrow but know and understand yesterday, so by measuring tomorrow based on yesterday, we are admitting that tomorrow matters less than yesterday. This is not leadership; it is instead a classic example of traditional MBA thinking - administer micro events based on historical trends, and assume the bigger picture will take care of itself.
Leaders who think this way should neither lead nor think.
What happens when a business model comes along that is fundamentally different from what came before? Google's model was brilliant - they turned the end user into the product and the advertiser into the customer. Microsoft turned the application developer into value-added "pull" for their products, and used these external "solution developers" as the sales machine that just dragged Microsoft along. The "establishment" scoffed at these two companies, as they did at Southwest Airlines, PayPal, Skype, Napster, ...and even the once radical notion of using ball-point pens in schools. Forsooth!
But the establishment (teeming with MBAs) does a bit more than just scoff at these upstarts; they actively subvert them by portraying them as untenable, wrong, evil, unproven, charlatans, etc.; they lobby against them through governments, press, and public. This is how incumbents attempt to hold on - by suppressing competitors vs. improving themselves. Just read this article to see that even the market-watchers (supposed innovators) get into the game of decrying those who are challenging the status quo.
A couple of weeks ago, Steve Wozniak said that Google's Android will become the most pervasive smartphone operating system. EVERYONE (media, competitors, Apple-haters) jumped on this assuming he meant that Apple's iOS will lose, and the iPhone is doomed. They compared this to Apple's "loss" to Microsoft in the personal computer marketplace (Windows still enjoys a ~90% market share vs. Mac/OSX and others).
Really? What is the basis for measuring "win" and "loss"?? Narrow minds define winners based on market share - and it's true, from that point of view, Android is more likely to win, because it's free to the manufacturers and they're not limiting the design criteria all that much. But is that really winning? Is Mac/OSX a loser in the PC market because it has less share than Windows? What computer are you using right now? What do you wish you had?
Outside of sports there are very few places where "winning" is clear-cut. In war - the "winning" side does get to write history the way they want, but let's face it, no-one would call America's invasion of Iraq a "victory" despite the fact that they technically won. Take Windows and PCs - it's fair to say that Microsoft "won" and continues to win the PC war but at what cost? Their success put them in the cross-hairs of a number of governments who feared their market share and pervasiveness as threats to competition. This cost Microsoft $billions, and even worse, altered the very nature of the company and its approach to doing business. This is not a "win," but this is the fate of share "winners." Hmmm...
Now let's look at the "loser." Apple seems to have done ...adequately despite their "poor" market share. Looking at their stock price, market cap, share of PR voice, future prospects, etc., I don't know about you, but they seem quite viable for a loser. How do their competitors look?
Perhaps NOT having a dominant market share was the best thing for them? It allowed them to diversify their efforts beyond the PCs, into music players, music services, and other consumer devices. Not being committed to one category or product-type let them be open to cannibalizing their own products, be innovative, creative and driven. When your market share is very high, your tendency is to preserve it vs. usurp it - you only have to look at the music industry to see how well this plays out.
I'm not saying they had a master plan and things turned out exactly as intended, but I am saying that Apple approaches the world differently than its peers, and stays true to its intention despite market pressure/ perception/ etc. This is a mark of leadership and vision. I don't believe for a second that they want to be the most sold phone in the market - I think they want to be the best phone, the best experience, and the most fun. Rather than volume, their obsession is impact or effect.
Are there absolute performance characteristics that will always be "good"? How about:
- Are you competing on price or value?
- Do your customers choose you in the face of cheaper alternatives?
- Are your products more important than your ethos/values ...your "why"?
Arbitrarily deciding that X is good just because it worked a generation ago or even yesterday is naive and doomed. Absolute measures of "good" should be about who you are, and why you are. These are the enduring "goods."