I met today with a large technology delivery and consulting firm in Europe seeking new ways to define its future. At the end of the meeting, I recommended that naming uncertainty is the place to start creating an honest dialog about what they want to be, and how they should go about getting there. A vision is great, but a vision in a vacuum, a vision without a foundation of honest evaluation, has less possibility of being fulfilled than one that honesty labels uncertainty and figures out how to either navigate through multiple eventualities (dealing with the collapse of probability into certainty as it occurs) and those uncertainties in which investment will cause the collapse to certainty.
Apple strikes me very much as an organization that may not explicitly deal with uncertainty as a strategic tool, but they certainly understand what they need to do to push the envelop, how to change the game, by ensuring that those things that can’t be accomplished today, can be accomplished tomorrow through the influence of their investments. As we see the iPad roll-out on Saturday, we will see what for most of an industry would be considered undoable, become tangible, because Steve Jobs drives his uncertainties to certainties, at least those over which Apple has control. He doesn’t have control of the market, or the post-ship experience, not as much as he might wish or imagine, but by confronting uncertainty he ties a strongly convicted vision to an achievable strategy.
I also spent time in aerospace, where in many cases, although on a completely different scale, businesses were forced to do much the same task that Job’s took on with the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad – to deliver technology that didn’t exist at the time the idea was conceived. Rather than to discover, to invent – rather than to incrementally improve, to cobble together parts and force technology into new shapes. Most aerospace firms spent more time waiting than driving, an approach that still seems to plague that industry.
The iPad is still a risk, but it is the culmination of a number of factors that would be considered uncertainty a year ago in the engineering world, and it is entering a market that Jobs, I hope, knows is still uncertain. But Apple is entering it with conviction and the determination to shape those forces it can, and the only way to do that is to be honest about what those forces are, so they can create a strategy for transforming them.