Building a Company the Steve Jobs’ Way: A Positive Deviance Approach to Strategy
Submitted to Effective Executive Lynn Perry Wooten, PhD Clinical Associate Professor of Management, Organizations, and Strategy Ross School of Business University of Michigan 701 Tappan Street Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1234 Email: Lpwooten@umich.edu Telephone: (734) 763-0486
This article proposes that the success of Apple is embedded in Steve Jobs’ strength-based approach to the company’s strategy. This approach concentrates on creating positive deviant performance -- the achievement of extraordinary success beyond the expectations of both stakeholders and outside observers. The pillars of Steve Jobs’ strategy are built upon a core of capabilities, the seizing of opportunities, and an organizational culture that enables the attainment of Apple’s goals. Furthermore, through the execution of strategy Steve Jobs has created a learning organization that is results-oriented.
The majority of strategic planning involves starting with a problem, analyzing the root cause of the problem, developing solutions to the problem, and then formulating a set of initiatives to address the problem. This approach can work for many organizations, but it will not result in a state of positive deviant performance – the achievement of extraordinary success beyond the expectations of both stakeholders and outside observers. In other words, a state of positive deviance is when the organization is flourishing at its best functionally and achieving optimal performance. When organizations embrace positive deviance as a goal, it demands a strengthbased approach to strategic planning. Focusing on strengths does not ignore the organization’s problems or threats, but energy is channeled into organizational members digging deep to truly understand the organization’s core capabilities that have the potential to generate and sustain positive deviant performance. To achieve positively deviant outcomes from the strategic planning process, leaders form a different mindset supported by value-creating processes that make it possible for organizational members to achieve excellence. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, is an example of a leader who has built a company around a strength-based strategy that has achieved positive deviance. In 2000, when Jobs returned to Apple, the company was worth about $5 billion. Today Apple is valued at approximately $170 billion.1 Financial performance is not the only indicator of Apple’s success. Although the company’s market share in the personal computer industry is only 9%, which is a substantial gain since Jobs’ return, it also has 73% in the United States MP3 player market and 11% market share in the worldwide smart phone market.2 In addition, Apple has won “best company” awards for innovation, marketing, and management. In this article, I propose that Steve Jobs’ ability to combine a generative set of “ingredients” into Apple’s strategic planning process produced positively deviant results. The next sections of this paper delve into Jobs’ recipe for strategic planning by exploring his skill set for framing Apple’s strategy through storytelling, formulating a strategy around seizing opportunities, and creating core capabilities that differentiate Apple in the marketplace. In addition, this article examines the role that organizational culture played in Jobs’ leadership as a prop for executing strategy and creating a learning organization focused on results. Steve Jobs as a “Strategic Storyteller” Throughout Jobs’ tenure at Apple he received accolades for this ability to frame the firm’s strategy as story. This is because Jobs crafts a compelling, coherent narrative that interweaves the organization’s implicit mission and value proposition as a dominant theme of Apple’s strategy. For example, Apple, in its 2009 Annual Report, states its formal strategy as: “Bringing the best personal computing, mobile communication, and portable...
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