How Apple taught us to think differently about change

How Apple taught us to think differently about change

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There’s no doubt about it, these are exciting times, but they have brought about unprecedented disruption and change. As the old military saying goes, “it’s a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world out there.” 

Organisations are waking up to the fact that they’re now operating in a global marketplace, with fluctuating prices, legal, tariff and cultural challenges, and modern methods of delivery. 

Big goals can’t be realised by just a few people, it takes an entire organisation to make change happen.

In response, they’re launching a bevvy of ambitious transformation agendas, all with the intent of future proofing their business. But, as we know, big goals can’t be realised by just a few people, it takes an entire organisation to make change happen.

Today’s leaders are under more pressure than ever to quickly mold multiple change agendas into practical implementation strategies for the masses. But, most of the time, these well-intentioned plans just don’t stick. Too often, leaders’ efforts are impeded by unclear or changing goals. Or, a lack of support and commitment from staff.

On an individual level, people are just trying to make sense of the chaos. Often, they lack the context, skills and energy they need to support and facilitate the change. On top of that, humans are hard-wired to resist change. 

In my work as an organisational development professional, I frequently hear people say, “I’m just waiting for the change to end.” News flash: Change and disruption will never end. It will keep coming at us, swift and hard. In fact, this is the slowest pace of change any of us will ever experience.

Why aren’t we proactively using coping mechanisms to help us mange stress in a VUCA world?

What is it that makes us so resistant to change? Well, psychologists say that many people view any sort of disruption as a threat and therefore have the typical fight or flight response to it. Fight or flight responses suck people’s energy and turn it into stress.

And when people experience long-term stress, it suppresses their immune systems, makes them jumpy and causes them to over-react to things that are really quite harmless. Ultimately, this interferes with their judgement and makes them less likely to make rational decisions.

Of course, an organisation that’s making bad decisions, that’s unwilling to change, and that’s being eaten-up by stress presents a considerable risk. More often than not, by the time people realise what’s at stake, the organisation is already slipping into obsolescence, taking everyone’s jobs with it. 

Then what do we do? We all move to a new company, where we start the entire cycle all over again. 

This begs the question, why aren’t we proactively using coping mechanisms to help us manage stress in a VUCA world?

Well, half the battle is shifting our mindsets. To cope with change, we must learn to think differently about it. And who better to teach us than one of the most pro-active disruptors of all time—Apple.

“Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.”

Former Apple CEO, the late Steve Jobs, once said, “Innovation is the ability to see change as an opportunity, not a threat.” He’s right. 

From the very beginning, Apple claimed it was inventing the future with products that would change the world. They brought us the the iPod, the iPad, the iTunes store and Apple TV. They were willing to kill off their very own iPod, to be first to market with smartphone technology. Rather them than someone else. The future is inevitable, after all.

Just last week, they announced Apple TV+, their all-new streaming service, and Arcade, an online gaming service apparently unlike any other. 

As usual, Apple critics accused the company of losing its edge and not bringing any new product categories to market. But, the truth is, this is what Apple has always done. Think about it: Laptops, desktops, phones, tablets, MP3 players—even the app store (thank you, Nokia)—all existed before Apple entered the market.

Apple didn’t just convince us to accept change, they made us hungry for it

What Apple did was reinvent them. And I don’t just mean they made them look good. Jobs once said, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”

Apple has the ability to take something that already exists and transform it into something better. In that sense, the work they do is no different from the continuous improvement work we do in our everyday roles. The only question is, with how much enthusiasm do we go about it?

Because enthusiasm—and belief—is something that Apple has in spades. And they’ve never once hesitated to pass it on to the public through their imaginative sales and marketing campaigns. Campaigns that inspired queues of super fans to snake around city blocks, just to be the first adopters.

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Let’s face it, Apple didn’t just convince us to accept change, they made us hungry for it—and this is how they did it:

They set a clear vision

Like many companies, Apple found themselves entering a volatile market impacted by social, political and environmental change. But, throughout all the economic downturns, and while new competitors were entering the market, Apple hung on to one thing: Their vision. 

As human beings, we’re naturally drawn to leaders and organisations who can communicate their why. Why they get out of bed in the morning and why anyone should care. Just think about Martin Luther King and his I Have a Dream speech. Leaders like this create a special sense of belonging, built on shared beliefs, that makes us feel safe, strong and inspired.

As human beings, we’re naturally drawn to leaders and organisations who can communicate their why.

Apple has always had a clear view of where it wants to be in the long-term and created a vision that was founded on its deepest beliefs:

“We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.”

Over the years, Apple has used this vision to provide direction, stability and context to their customers and employees, all of whom have repaid them with loyalty. That’s why it’s so important for organisations, leaders and individuals to set, communicate and keep in mind the vision. It helps customers to feel confident, employees to make better decisions, and drives enduring brand loyalty.

They committed to understanding

Apple recognised that the only antidote to uncertainty was understanding. As a leader, Jobs was committed to stopping, looking and listening beyond his areas of expertise. Likewise, in our organisations, we must communicate with customers and take the time to understand their evolving challenges and needs. Internally, leaders must open up conversations with employees at all levels and in all areas of the business to improve teamwork and collaboration skills. As individuals, we can increase our own understanding by proactively sharing practices, welcoming diverse perspectives and refusing to get stuck in one viewpoint.

They focused on simplicity

Apple took complex ideas and made them logical and easy to understand.

In complex times, Apple understood the value of simplicity. Just like with their products, Apple took complex ideas and made them logical and easy to understand. Across the organisation, they introduced deliberative processes that helped to make sense of the chaos. They had enough discipline to provide order, but not so much order that it would stifle innovation. Indeed, organisations, leaders and individuals who can quickly tune in to precise details in chaotic situations solve problems more efficiently, and make better and more informed decisions.

They sought to be agile

Where there was ambiguity, Apple was agile. They created an organisational culture that proactively sought out opportunities to improve and applied those innovations far more quickly than their rivals did. That’s why it’s so important to communicate the purpose and benefits of continuous improvement to staff. Again, leaders must quickly translate the latest enterprise goals into practical strategies, explain them to teams and link them back to individual roles. As individuals, we must always remind ourselves to support, accommodate and respond flexibly to the organisation’s changing needs.

They taught us to ‘think different.’

You see, together, we were designing our future together—and most of us didn’t even know it. 

Just like its slogan, Apple taught us to think differently about change. They took away the fear of change and replaced it with excitement. They told us beautiful stories of the future, with just the right amount of detail, and then they allowed our imaginations to fill in the gaps. You see, together, we were designing our future together—and most of us didn’t even know it. 

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The future is yours to create

Be someone who’s crazy enough to think they can change the world. Or at the very least, make your mark upon it. 

Now, take a moment to consider where you’re at on your change journey. Where would you like to be in three to five years? You don’t have to aim to change the world. But you can aim to change your world.

If that still feels intimidating, consider this: You’ve already been part of one of the most transformative periods in history—the digital revolution. You can and will adapt, just like you have before. 

If to succeed, you need a new skill, learn it. Book onto a course, read a great book, find a mentor or put up your hand for some on-the-job experience. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is part of the change process. So, do it fast, do it often and learn everything you can from it. Then, get on with the next thing. Above all, keep one clear thought in your mind: The future is yours to create.

Jobs once said, “When you grow up, you get told that the world is a certain way and that it’s your job just to live your life inside that world. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: That is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people who were no smarter than you. You can change it, you can influence it, and you can build things that other people can use.”

So, go ahead. Be someone who’s crazy enough to think they can change the world. Or at the very least, make your mark upon it. 

Nichol Hildebrand

Nichol Hildebrand is a trusted organisational development professional who empowers leaders to create a better future. She has a proven track record of transforming the beliefs, attitudes and values of employees for individual and company growth. Nichol has an in-depth knowledge of how to design and deliver organisational development strategies that help companies to respond to industry and market changes. She believes that when great leadership is in place, success takes care of itself. Connect with Nichol on LinkedIn here.

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