In The Age of the Platform, I write about how Steve Jobs in 2007 changed the legal name of his iconic company from Apple Computer to Apple. Sure, Apple is just plain cleaner than Apple Computer but there was something else, something more profound going on–and Jobs damn well knew it. Apple was no longer just a “computer” company. In fact, it had become so much more.
That’s even more true today. Case in point: the iPhone has set the standard for smartphones, spawning many an imitator. Among other things, Apple has created amazing products, a vast ecosystem of developers, and thousands of much-needed jobs. In fact, according to a Harvard Review blog post by Horace Dediu, “in the five years since the iPhone launched, Apple created a total of 35,852 retail jobs.” (Emphasis mine.)
I’d bet that, over that time, Apple has created more jobs than any US-based company. In this post, I’d like to look at how Apple uses data.
Breaking Down Apple’s Numbers
From Dediu’s post:
Some of those jobs came from new store openings. The total store count went from 172 to 361, more than doubling. But the growth in employment was faster: from about 6400 to 42,200, more than quintupling. This is reflected in the total number of employees per store which increased from 37 in Q1 2007 to 117 in Q1 2012.
Employment is very closely correlated with total visitors. In fact, employment has risen faster even than visitors. By dividing the number of visitors by the number of employees we see how the number has declined.
[If we consider the time an employee spends working we can even guess that the average visit was served by about 14 minutes of employee interaction--this is up from nine minutes five years ago.]
An Un-Jobsian Approach
On one hand, the data show that there’s actually sound business strategy behind Apple’s hiring moves. Making decisions based upon this type of “normal” business logic seems very un-Jobsian. It seems as if regular Apple bean-counters are looking at sales numbers and making ostensibly appropriate hiring decisions. In this way, Apple is a pretty regular company.
Except it isn’t.
If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to go in to an Apple store some time. For the consumer, it’s nothing less than a fascinating experience. The energy is palpable. Many people are actually smiling. (I used to go to Gateway retail stores when they existed and I can tell you that the vibe was entirely different.) For Apple, it’s equally fascinating and 17 times more profitable per square foot than the average retailer.
Many Apple store visitors are first-timers and need hand-holding. Perhaps they’ve heard good things about iPads or MacBook Pros or iPhones and have some questions. They want to know more. They don’t want to be sold but they want to own. Here, accessible and friendly employees are essential. For my part, I have never had to wait more than five minutes to talk to an actual person while at an Apple store. Even while waiting, I’ve had plenty of fun just playing with different Apple products.
None of this happens if Apple designs its products in “normal” ways. We’re not talking about Apple’s use of in-store data if its stores weren’t so successful.
Perhaps it’s time for businesses to follow a fundamentally new model with respect to data. Sure, data matters, but only at certain times. Throw sound business logic and focus groups out the window for design and product development, yet manage your business with data and more conventional tools.
What say you?