It's kind of like air. Invisible but omnipresent, every industry, market, and sector has a dogma — "a doctrine or code of beliefs accepted as authoritative." "This is just how things are done," dogma whispers, every second of every day, to every decision-maker in every boardroom.
What does it mean to be a revolutionary? To challenge an existing dogma, instead of complying with it: to reject its tenets, highlight its flaws and improve each of its shortcomings.
What makes Apple so revolutionary? Why is it able to disrupt industry after industry, and topple the mightiest of incumbents? Steve Jobs is, from an organizational perspective, more Che Guevara than Jack Welch: he's always challenging dogma, instead of complying with it. Apple's rivals, like most companies, do exactly the opposite: "this is how things are done," they think — and then try to do it harder.
Here are six ways to challenge the dogma that's invisible and omnipresent in your industry — to be a breath of fresh air:
Challenge products. Most companies make the same toothpaste, car, or shoe — just in a slightly different color or flavor. Not Apple. Every once in a while, it challenges the existing dominant design, the accepted ideal of what a product should be. That is, of course, the story of the iPad. Yes, tablets have been around for a while — but none with the features, attributes, and pricing of the iPad. Instead of contesting the same old stuff, Apple challenged everyone to rethink it.
Challenge strategy. Think of strategy as a pattern of investments a firm makes. What is it — really — that makes Apple different? It invests significantly more in design and usability, where its rivals don't; as an organization, Apple is more like a design studio (replete with control freak overlord) than a "company." Rivals never invested in design — because design was seen, in biz parlance, as a "cost center", not a "profit center", a frivolous, soft, unproductive use of hard-earned capital. Apple's great challenge has proven that design is perhaps the single most productive investment a firm can make — and that's why its rivals are desperately playing catch up. But they're missing the point: It's not about following Apple. It's about challenging dogma.
Challenge distribution. In the early noughties, the music industry rolled out wave after of portals, channels, and platforms: all new distribution mechanisms. The problem was that they were the same old distribution mechanisms, with a slightly prettier face. As PC World famously said, "the services' stunningly brain-dead features showed that the record companies still didn't get it." Who did? Apple. iTunes challenged the preconception that music could only be distributed in walled gardens — iTunes isn't perfect, but it is far more of a truly open market that anything that came before it.
Challenge business models. Apple's replicated iTunes' success with the App Store, of course. The App Store challenges business model dogma by turning media from product to service, letting new profit possibilities open up. Publishers can earn revenues from app sales — and perhaps further revenues from in-app sales. Apple is spearheading its own mobile ad service, shifting into a new industry, offering new products to a new market — ads that let publishers get more creative bang for the buck, and alter their business model dogma that digital ads are low-value commodities. TIME asking five bucks an issue isn't what I mean by challenging business model dogma — two kids at Stanford topping the charts with an awesome newsreader, one that people actually pay for, is.
Challenge sales and service. Apple sells very differently from its rivals, and I'm not just talking Apple ads. Instead, I mean the Apple Store. Yesterday, electronics were soulless "product," commodities hard-sold by tuned-out teenagers in big-box megastores. The Apple Store challenged every aspect of that and turned it on its head. The act of exchange became personal, passionate, and interesting. Who doesn't stop into an Apple Store every now and then just to check something out? The Genius Bar turned service upside down — giving people, well, actual service, instead of just outsourced script-reading (imagine that). That has paid steep dividends: the Apple Store is (by far) the most productive and profitable store in your local mall.
Challenge production. Apple has, as we've explored, challenged in a variety ways. Here's it's next and greatest challenge. Can it challenge how its products are made? As a recent spate of suicides at Foxconn's Hon Hai suggests, the effects of producing "magical and revolutionary" devices might not be so magical or revolutionary. Can Apple, well, "Apple" not just distribution, marketing, and retail, but the global economy's lowest-common-denominator battle for "labor arbitrage," making it simpler, cleaner, and more productive? If it can, it just might give Apple yet another edge for the next decade.
Lesson? It is through challenge — not mere compliance — that the disruptive outperformance is earned.
You might be wondering — what about Apple's dogma? After all, Apple's a pretty dogmatic company. Of course it is: that's the point. Don't accept it: it's becoming the new industry dogma. Now you know how to challenge it.