That Awkward Feeling

Have you ever had to tell your wife that “Yes, in fact that outfit does look horrendous.”?

That’s how I’ve felt the last few days, and I do not mean to say my wife needs a new wardrobe.

Oddly, we’re one of the 3.3%* of Americans without a television. (Actually, we have one, but it’s in the unfinished basement doing nothing.) There are certain times that we are frustrated by that fact, but in general, life has been fine thanks to Hulu, Netflix and iTunes. It used to be that sports and news were our concern. With Twitter and various other online or app venues, news has been pretty much forgotten about when we relive our concerns. Sports on the other hand is one thing that we both miss. I miss my pathetic Twins, and she misses the Olympics.

This year, during the opening ceremonies broadcast (pushed to prime time by NBC, which should get its own post, but I digress), I was at home working on a project, while Mary was doing a photoshoot for a friend. The television was on in the background for her, and I of course, had my Twitter stream up.

I’m not sure whether I was the chicken or the egg, but I started to see some interesting things pop up in my Twitter stream, and my wife recalls her confusion as well.

Let’s step back a moment. For those who don’t know me, I’m what you call a “fanboy.”  Look at my résumé and you’ll see that I dedicated just shy of seven years of my professional career to working for Apple. Why? Because it’s Apple. You can’t resist the allure of working for a brand that you so admire. While there, I met some of the smartest people, and best teams ever. (Unrelated to this post, go read Forbes: http://onforb.es/NBsJr5 .) While with Apple, I spent a good chunk of my time focusing on visual merchandising of the stores – making sure that they all looked, felt, and spewed the Apple brand. Not an easy task when you have thousands of people walking in and out on a daily basis. We got what it was to be the brand, and we knew the importance of protecting it.

So during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics and Apple spent a few million on air time, I was a wee bit confused. Not necessarily at the fact that they bought the time, but the reactions that were surfacing across the web.

Me not having a TV, I relied on Twitter for an explanation of what was going on. The first Tweet that really got my attention came from another former Apple employee who now works for one of the best ad agencies in town:

 

 

From there, the conversation continued, and I found an online recording of the commercials. (Now available from Apple at: http://www.apple.com/mac/videos/#tv-ads-mayday )

Well that was interesting.

Another former Apple employee joined in our Twitter conversation and pointed out that they seem more like Best Buy commercials than Apple. Spot on comment in my opinion.

Now that it has been a few days, the internet has spoken up, and the majority of folks think that they missed the mark – with a few specific exceptions.

To me, this points out a few very important things.

1. People actually pay attention to Apple’s advertising. What I mean is that if it truly were a Best Buy commercial, no one would have said anything or cared. It would just be normal for that situation. Apple just has a history with the ad world. It not only provides the tools for most of the ad world to survive on, but also provides great and inspirational ads. 1984 changed the Super Bowl. Think Different brought emotion to a box of plastic and metal. Silhouettes on billboards made us want to dance. Justin Long and John Hodgman had characters that made points worth listening to.

2. The category of people who thought they were cute, or good, were (in my audience at least) current Apple employees. There’s nothing wrong with this. They were fine ads – they weren’t horrible, they were questionable, and seemed un-Apple. But their defendants where those who are still drinking the Kool-Aid, as we say. Ironically, they also were first to point out how incorrect the ads were. The character shouldn’t necessarily have been a Genius – a Creative would be a better choice, or potentially a Specialist. But they made a concession and chose to go with the most widely known in the cast of Apple retail characters.

And that’s what I saw. Concessions being made. So here is where I tell my wife she’s got some ugly clothes on.  Apple fights the status quo in everything it does. In products, in retail, in culture. The same has held true for advertising. It seems as the times have changed lately, and not just in relation to this batch, either. If you look at their most recent iPhone commercials, you’ll see big celebrities being big celebrities. That hasn’t happened in the past. We didn’t need proof that the products were cool since Sam Jackson was using them. They were cool because they were cool. Apple had it’s own street cred and didn’t need anyone else to hold it’s hand.

Don’t get me wrong though. I have complete faith in Apple. But, I struggle with who at their roster of ad agencies came up with (and will admit) to this campaign.

Go ahead and rip me apart in the comments – I can take it.

****Update: Check out Ken Segall’s take. If you don’t know Ken, you know his work. From the Apple campaigns prior to this one….: http://kensegall.com/2012/07/new-mac-ads-landing-with-a-serious-thud/ ****

*Stat from Nielsen report in March of 2011 stating that 96.7% of households have a television, which actually dropped since their last survey where 98.9% had one.

Today Becomes Tomorrow

Today became the tomorrow that we didn’t want to admit.

Today we move forward without the underdog who perennially came out on top.

We move forward knowing that the world is a better place than it was, that our lives have been changed, and that one person can truly impact billions.

In 2004, I was fresh out of college and looking for a job in the advertising or marketing industry of Minneapolis. I was engaged to be married, and trying to be an adult. Unfortunately, my fiancee at the time and I parted ways after years of being together and it absolutely devastated me. My life had changed in a day, and would never be the same.

And I’m ok with that.

I made one of the hardest choices of my life. I needed a job to pay for the apartment lease that I had just signed. I had spent some time as a graphic designer, but the options I had were an internship in the ad world, or look elsewhere.

I told myself that I would never work retail.

And then I did. Sort of.

My first day at the new job let me know that I had made the right choice. When signing my paperwork, the market manager asked me my email address, and I almost started to cry. My now ex-fiancee at the time and I had a domain and that was my primary email address. Amazingly, even though he was far up the food chain from me, showed compassion and great personal leadership. I found a new home, and it quickly became a life saver. As a part time employee, I made friends, I kept busy, and I got good at what we did. What we did wasn’t sell stuff. What we did was try and change the world. And we did. We weren’t in retail, we worked for Apple.

More than anything, I owe Apple everything. In my near seven years, the most important thing I got from Apple was not the iPod, a Mac, or even my iPhone. It was the friends that I made; the passionate beings that wanted to change the world.A few years ago, I met a wonderful coworker. She became my wife, and is also a fantastic mother of our daughter, with Part Deux on the way. I could not be happier. Period. It expands beyond my store(s). My brother was able to get a job at Apple retail out in New York City – where he met his wife, and absolutely changed their lives.

Yesterday, we lost our icon.

My friends, family, and strangers mourn the loss of a CEO. The President himself acknowledged the impact of the man, and the company.

I am happy to say I worked for him. I am happy to say it changed my life. I am happy to say thank you. Period.

There are hundreds of Steve Quotes making their way around the internet (and offline). There are millions of memories and posts similar to my own out there.

My plea is this. That we instead of merely quoting him and hoping that someone else follows through stops.

Now, more than ever, our country, our world, and even our families, need us to Do. Without compromises, without sacrifices, we must Do and Be.

My plea is to trust your gut, follow your heart, and chance the world in your own right.

Steve Jobs did miraculous things for us all. Not because he wanted to, but because he needed to. He pleaded with the world to change for the better, and we did.

At Apple, it wasn’t about profitability or bottom lines. Those goals were universally met by doing what was Right. I had the great pleasure of taking care of millions of customers, and hundreds of my employees. Not with threats or metrics, but with inspiration and vision. It will universally be true that successful leadership was determined by this.

In remembering the past, I look forward to the future. There are great leaders in the world, both inside and out of technology. No one can replace Steve Jobs, but that’s because no one should.

It’s time to stop doing to do, and Be. Chase your heart and fail; that is the greatest success.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.

Google Says Hello Moto

This morning, the hot news has been that the search and software giant Google has acquired Motorola Mobility.

I’ve been trying to think about what this means for the tech world.

I have a lot of respect for Google. They do business unlike most, and provide some innovative thinking behind how we use the web. My fear is for Motorola. Generally not seen as the most revolutionary of companies, how will it deal with a culture-shift? How will the hardware business change the way Google does business?

So, doing what most do after seeing “big” tweets, I tried to find the source. Sure enough, Google released a post on their blog about it early this morning. And then I read it.

What a bunch of whiny ninnies.

We recently explained how companies including Microsoft and Apple are banding together in anti-competitive patent attacks on Android. The U.S. Department of Justice had to intervene in the results of one recent patent auction to “protect competition and innovation in the open source software community” and it is currently looking into the results of the Nortel auction. Our acquisition of Motorola will increase competition by strengthening Google’s patent portfolio, which will enable us to better protect Android from anti-competitive threats from Microsoft, Apple and other companies.

-Larry Page, CEO

I get it. You feel like you are getting squashed. This is another venue for you to talk about your “openness”. But really? You are Google. Don’t just sit there whining about what patent laws are doing to you, go invent a new way to do something.

Is “openness” hurting Google? Is Android getting too hard? Think about it. They just bought a phone company, so that they can build their products better. I get it, and it’s a great idea. I’m excited to see what comes of it. However, by creating the hardware and the OS for the phone, isn’t that one step closer to a closed loop process? Sure the OS will remain hackable and more freedom for development, but then you build the OS to take advantage of the hardware that you build. This action isn’t going to shut other phone manufacturers out, I’m sure. But it creates one less step to a controlled ecosystem – something that Google has adamantly spoken against.

But, they’ll say it’s about the experience. Oh wait, they did:

The combination of Google and Motorola will not only supercharge Android, but will also enhance competition and offer consumers accelerating innovation, greater choice, and wonderful user experiences. I am confident that these great experiences will create huge value for shareholders.

The user experience is all that matters. That’s part of the reason why Apple with iPhone and iPad, and iOS, has been so successful. The experience is there, and controlled throughout to the best of Apple’s ability.

Google being more open has a harder time getting manufacturers to build off a certain hardware specification. Will this solve the problem? No, but Google will start building (or branding) phones that work best with their devices. Then again, knowing Motorola, there will be plenty of devices that offer “entry” opportunities into the smart phone (and not so smart) environment.

It will be very interesting to see, that’s for sure. Android has, and always will have, a place in market. Now controlling both software and hardware, will it change who Google is?

Onward.

On Friday, I was given one of the best gifts I can ever fathom.

It was not merely a material possession that I highly desired, but it meant, and means, much more. No, it isn’t a white iPhone. It’s actually better.

Friday was an impossible day for me. One that I never thought would happen, and avoided for almost seven years. I’ve moved to a new company, a new opportunity, and a new team. On my way out, I realized that I left as I came. My first day at the job, they clapped as we walked in, welcoming us to the team. Friday, I was happily clapped out, all wishing well as I crossed the threshold one last time. Not only that, but a good friend of mine also wrote on my Facebook wall saying she was clapping me out from the West Coast.

It was surreal, and fantastic. But it wasn’t until I was in the car with my wife and daughter that I really got something special. In a bag that was given to me was a book. The book that I almost bought that morning as I bought my usual “medium Pike with room” from Starbucks.

Onward, How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul – by Howard Schultz with Joanne Gordon.

Appropriate and exciting were the immediate words that popped in my head.

And then I opened the pages.

But these pages had been opened before.

Inside, several of my friends (I refuse to call any of them coworkers, as they are far more than that) had written their own inscriptions. Not only inscriptions, but they highlighted phrases throughout the book that meant something to them, and to me. They wrote quotes from other great leaders, and cleverly left me messages throughout. I have turned page by page, and I’m sure I have not yet accounted for all their notes. From my boss’ boss’ boss, to someone who just got hired part-time, many signed. Even my wife snuck her own comment in. (She usually does…Love you hun…)

And for that, I cried.

Onward I go. Onward I read. But the greatest gift was truly their words of friendship, inspiration, and yes, even humor. I’ll never forget my time working with such great people, and I’ll never forget the moment I started to move Onward.

Thank you.