November 24, 2011 1:45 PM

Good To Great To Different

Is Apple a truly great company?

The answer seems obvious. Now reframe that thought and think about what truly makes Apple - as a company - great. Is it their revenue? Product innovation? How they changed our lives across a handful of media channels? Was it all Steve Jobs? In the past few weeks, there have been several instances where I've found myself taking a step back and asking myself, "what does it take to become a great company?" In fact, as I write that question out, I realize it is flawed. I think the company I own (along with business partners), Twist Image, is a great company (from the work we do to the people who make it happen), so maybe the real question I've been thinking about is, "what does it take to become one of the greatest companies in the world?" (dream big, right?). After reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, I quickly realized that any attempts to model Twist Image after Apple would fail because Jobs is a unique leader (and, when I say "unique," I mean someone I am not willing to model myself after). It could well be that the success of Apple is something that no other company could ever replicate. It was an anomaly. In fact, let's see how Apple, itself, performs in a post-Steve Jobs environment (only time will tell).

Or was it an anomaly?

Two pieces of content caught my attention in the past little while: The first was an article in the November 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review titled, What Great Companies Do Differently (subscription required). The second, showed up today via Marketing Magazine titled, How Agencies Can Blow Off Commoditization. Think about this (via the Marketing Magazine article): "Being smart, creative people with cool solutions to complex client business problems does not mean they are different or immune from the disease of creeping commoditization. Being better isn't good enough... It is not a better experience, it is a different experience. Doing great work, getting great business results and all the analytics that go with it are not enough to sustain the growth (quantitative and qualitative) of a marketing communications company. People who keep repeating 'it's all about the work' are naive. It's all about the gestalt. It's all about everything, never about one thing or one idea."

Think different.

"It's about the work. It's about the money. It's about the growth." How many businesses do you know that run on those fumes? Let's face it, Wall Street is based on those metrics. When was the last time a business was awarded a bigger market share simply because they think differently? It's amazing to read through the Harvard Business Review, Marketing Magazine and the Steve Jobs biography only to uncover that "different" seems to trump the notion of greatness... considerably. The next era of business is clearly about those who can create and build "digital-age economies" (as Isaacson calls them) with a combination of creativity, technology and the right people. Great companies are companies that, clearly, think differently. That Harvard Business Review article defines specific core values that make a different company a great company like:

Care and care alike.

If the Occupy Wall Street movement is the beginning of a new world order/change, we could well see a world that looks at winning businesses not based on how big they are based on revenues, but on which companies are truly doing something different. Imagine that. A world where business does indeed become personal and the job matters less than the combined work we're all doing to make our own little dents in the world. Personally, the greatest companies are the ones who are doing something different. Personally, the greatest companies are the ones who are not just pumping out record sales and volume growth. Imagine a world where the top-line dollars are truly not the mitigating factor of a company's greatness.

What do you think it takes for a company to be great?