Here’s to the crazy ones – what public and voluntary services can really learn from Apple

Considering our branding recently made me think (of course) about Apple, and in particular how one advertising campaign marked the turnaround in the company’s fortunes and the start of its journey to become the biggest company in the world. What can we learn from this ad?

Many people think that advertising is superficial, but you can’t suggest it’s inconsequential when it can help to save a company and inspire a whole organisation with the same spirit. In September 1997, Apple was by some accounts just six months away from bankruptcy. Steve Jobs commissioned the campaign to remind people (including within Apple) of the philosophy underpinning the company he co-founded (and was then thrown out of) but which was struggling despite his return. It was based on a recognition that the spark that drove Apple existed long before the company, and that a good way to show what kind of company Apple was would be to celebrate the people it admired. In the space of only a minute, the ad helped give Apple back the counter-culture attitude that it had lost over the preceding decade and a half.

The campaign was ‘Think Different’. The most famous single ad in the campaign was ‘Here’s to the crazy ones‘ (this link takes you to a special version of the ad with a voiceover by Steve Jobs himself). It’s a great piece of copywriting, worth quoting in full (and this is the fullest version):

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

The words ‘Think Different’ were created by advertising firm Chiat/Day art director Craig Tanimoto, and the advert’s text was written by Rob Siltanen and Ken Segall. Segall consulted for Apple until 2007 (he also came up with the name ‘iMac’); when he subsequently started working for Dell he found a very different culture (this is from an interview on the Cult of Mac website):

“Dell and Apple: It’s night and day. It’s a transactional world Dell lives in. It’s all about numbers. Everything they say about Apple making products for themselves is true. Apple — it’s about changing the world. For everyone else, it’s about the money.”

This isn’t one of those ‘what we can learn from how Apple innovates’ articles. Providing public and voluntary services is very different from making and selling computers. But what would happen if we ‘sold’ the idea of serving the public – at all levels of the state and third sector – with the same passion as Apple talks about what it does? Instead of effectively denigrating their own staff (as pointed out recently by Benedict Dellot on the RSA blog), what if more public and voluntary sector organisations inspired the same culture of creativity and commitment in their employees? And instead of becoming more like Dell, what if the lesson from Apple was about motivating people by focusing on changing the world first and ‘efficiency’ second?

Apropos of this, let’s quote Steve Jobs again (this time from a 1994 PBS documentary):

“When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will, you know if you push in, something will pop out the other side, that you can change it, you can mold it. That’s maybe the most important thing. It’s to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. I think that’s very important and however you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better, cause it’s kind of messed up, in a lot of ways. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

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