It’s hard to keep amazing your audience forever.
One of my favourite bands, The Grateful Dead, hit their peak in 1977. When I discovered their music, a decade later, I didn’t realise the band was long past their glory days. The same goes for Miles Davis, who peaked in 1959. Andy Warhol? 1969. The Beatles? A couple of years earlier, I guess.
Guys who love fast cars say Porsche hit its peak in 1995. The Corvette? Just before that. And almost everyone agrees that the new Toyota has outmoded the Civic.
So why are we surprised that businesses and institutions hit peaks? Aren’t they meant to improve over time? Aren’t they supposed to keep peaking, so to speak?
After all, over time businesses acquire more experience, resources, assets and mass acceptance. They are not meant to become boring or lose their power to amaze. Then again, if Disney never peaked, we wouldn’t have Pixar. If Nokia, Motorola and BlackBerry never peaked, we wouldn’t have our iPhones, or any smartphone, today.
Success is often the reason behind peaking. Success means money, of course. It also means bureaucracy, politics and compromise. More pressure to meet bottom lines, broaden the audience and keep lowering the common denominators to get there. It means pushing aside the torchbearers by profit-maximising managers.
If businesses want to continue their success with stakeholders, they need to be alert to when the peak will occur. They must also be ready to do something about it when they hit that high. Because, if they don’t, they will likely realise too late that the hill they are conquering is no longer on an incline.
I have been an Apple user since 1990. I got my first Macintosh at college. It was the size of two shoeboxes taped together with a built-in screen. It came with a colour, dot-matrix printer and 12 fonts. I felt like the king of the world. From that day on, I have been using a Mac every day, for the last 25 years.
But – at the risk of mass condemnation – I feel that Apple hit its peak about four years ago. It timed its decline with Steve Job’s early exit (I know, I am flogging a geek-cliché). But four years ago, I didn’t really worry about the operating system, about stuff crashing or things not working congruently.
I have started to now. The operating systems are not particularly faster or more reliable at running core applications. The last update, El Capitan, gives up downloading halfway through the night. And the gratuitous ooh’s and aah’s we watch at an Apple Live Event don’t quite live up to the hype. My experience is not getting better, or faster, or more worthwhile. It is declining.
When my new iPhone 6+ didn’t reboot when the battery first fully drained, I headed straight to Apple’s Genius Bar. It was packed with people like me: dumbfounded acolytes who could not believe that this could happen to them. The geniuses give you an appointment. When I returned, five hours later, putting all my faith in Apple’s genius for another three tedious hours, it occurred to me that my IT guy working back at the office in Karachi could probably help better. The geniuses couldn’t figure out the problem. So
I make sure that my iPhone 6+, the most expensive smartphone on the market, never drains below 25%. If it does, my biological operating system kicks in and turns to panic mode. My loyalty to Apple is declining.
These days, we are observing the renaissance of our film industry. On the surface, it seems that any kid with access to a digital camera and a childhood dream for stardom is making the most of the low price of entry. This will change, of course. Over time, some of these projects will peak. Others will fall by the wayside. And some will kill the careers of notable commercial directors who made the mistake of painting on a larger canvas.
The thing to remember is that a peak occurs when no one seems to care. It’s happenstance – a timely mix of coincidence and public infatuation that brings businesses, brands or people to light. But great work requires a person to care in an unreasonable way, about every detail. Someone, who is an insider and must speak up and speak out, time and time again, on behalf of both current and prospective customers.
The focus is obvious: To keep specialising in what keeps you special so that your peak stays a horizon away.