Four Questions that Built Apple, Walmart, The Home Depot, and Singapore What Steve, Sam, Arthur, and Lee Asked
As I study the leaders of successful corporations such as Apple, Walmart, The Home Depot, and modern Singapore, I have discovered key questions each of these leaders asked. I believe their questions were the cornerstone of their phenomenal success.
I have been asking them of myself lately. I want to share them with you and invite you to ask them of the organizations you lead.
If we can consistently come up with answers to these four powerful questions, we can take our organizations to amazing new heights.
STEVE JOBS: What incredible benefits can we give the customer?
When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, he was not focused on making a spectacular product. Instead he was focused on giving the customer an incredible benefit from a spectacular product. The difference is slight, and most companies miss it. He said, “One should not gather your engineers and designers and ask, ‘How can you design a great product?’ One should ask instead, ‘What incredible benefits can we offer the customer?’”
Jobs said when people saw the first laser printer, they had a wow-reaction. That’s exactly what he did with the iPhone. He created a wow-product that gave customers an incredible benefit. I remember my first smart phone. I loved my Palm phone. Palm was cutting edge I thought, but when I saw the iPhone’s unique power, simplicity, and beauty in 2007, I switched and have never looked back.
SAM WALTON: How can we give customers what they want?
While Steve Jobs believed customers may not know what they want because they have not seen it yet, Sam Walton focused on giving customers what they asked for. He used to say, “Give the customer what they want.”
This seems to be a simple task. “Of course,” we might say as leaders, “isn’t that what we are trying to do? Work hard every day to give our customers what they want?”
Leaders usually give customers enough of what they want to keep them coming back. It is rare to see leaders who possess a singular focus to continually refine their products and services to cater to their customers’ exact wants, and then deliver on them.
Sam thought people wanted a wide availability of products at low prices. He gave it to them consistently.
LEE KUAN YEW: How do we get there?
Lee Kuan Yew became the Prime Minister of the small multi-ethnic Singapore in 1959, a poor country that was unlikely to become the world-class nation it is today. He began a revolutionary metamorphosis of his country and is now considered one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. When asked in an interview how he was able to accomplish this Herculean task, he replied: “We kept asking, ‘how do we get there?’”
His question is so simple I was first tempted to skip over it. However, after reflecting on it I discovered it contains two hidden principles, in addition to the obvious one of coming up with a strategy to achieve your goal. The question “How do we get there?” communicates an inherent confidence that we will get there, but we just need to figure out how. I like the confidence and faith it implies we already have in ourselves and in our people. Second, his question compels us to define where “there” is. You cannot get “there” if you don’t know where “there” is. Therefore, the question requires us to clarify our vision.
ARTHUR BLANK: How can I leap frog my industry by 8 years?
Arthur Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot, is a billionaire and a really nice guy. About three years ago I had the pleasure to be in the same room with him and a small group of other leaders. He was asked about his secret to launching The Home Depot. He said, “Find a way to leap frog your industry by 8 years.” As leaders, if we can figure out a way to do that, we can bring much success to our organization. Think of Apple…they did that too. It took Apple’s competitors about eight years to catch up with them, and by that time, they were in the stratosphere.
Mr. Blank said when The Home Depot started, there were no large hardware stores. The Home Depot was the first. And they are still the first in their market, even though there are other chains who have emulated their business model.
How do you leap ahead 8 years in your industry? It requires the discipline of strategic thinking. It demands bold leadership, courage, and grit.
Actually stopping to ask and answer these questions is very hard. Can we be disciplined enough as leaders to get our teams to stop and ask them? I hope these four questions will be as useful to you on your journey as they were for these four iconic leaders.
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