Creative leaders ask empowering questions and their answers can guide the brand for years. Steve Jobs asked better questions and his vision continues to inspire Apple today.
When Apple opened its first store in 2001, many experts thought it was a crazy idea. Skeptics misjudged its success because they were crunching numbers instead of considering experiences. The critics were correct that — compared to its peers — Apple would have to generate a lot more money per square foot to pay for its expensive space in shopping malls. What they didn’t realize is that Jobs and his team didn’t set out to sell computers.
Most computer makers asked, “How do we move metal and sell boxes?”
Jobs asked, “How do we enrich lives?”
For Apple, the answers looked like this:
A store that enriches lives has a non-commission sales floor. Instead of clerks or salespeople, it would hire geniuses and concierges.
A store that enriches lives hires for empathy and passion.
A store that enriches lives greets you as as you step foot inside.
A store that enriches lives lets you play with the products.
A store that enriches lives is located where people live their lives.
These were all innovations in retail in 2001. Better questions triggered better innovations, creating a store that still retains its top spot as the retail sales leader. Jobs wanted customers to feel inspired. He knew that once emotional connections were made, sales would follow.
The vision—enriching lives—has served as the Apple store’s true north for 15 years. It’s still at the heart of the company’s vision as it embarks on the most significant redesign since the stores first opened.
“Enriching lives” are the first two words on the credo card that has been distributed to all store employees. The motto has inspired this week’s introduction of the redesign and the “Today at Apple” experiences that customers will see at all of Apple’s 495 locations in May.
In a rare interview for CBS News, Apple’s Vice President of Retail, Angela Ahrendts said the redesign is a celebration of Apple’s legacy.
“Anything you do at Apple, you want to carry on the legacy,” she said. “Our soul is our people and our job is to enrich lives.”
In Apple’s newly redesigned stores, ‘enriching lives” will look like:
-Big digital screens in 100 of Apple’s largest stores for meetings and classes.
-A Genius Bar lined with trees to become the “Genius Grove.”
-Spaces that resemble ‘town squares’ where customers can engage with devices and their communities.
-A new category of employee with the title, Creative Pros. These are the ‘liberal arts’ equivalent of tech Geniuses. According to Apple, they will teach topics ranging from photos and video to music, coding, art and design.
-Kids hour designed to “spark imagination and creativity through fun, hands-on projects” that include robots, coding, creating music and movies.
-Influential artists and musicians offering ‘perspectives and performances’ in a live venue.
When Ahrendts first introduced the concept behind the redesigned stores, she said the position of the Creative Pro was inspired by Jobs’ philosophy that Apple is “technology married with the liberal arts.” In one interview she noted that “The retail side of the company tries to hire candidates based on their empathy and compassion so that they can enrich lives rather than salesmanship.”
In the CBS interview, Ahrendts explained that “empathy” is at the heart of the changes.
“The more technologically advanced our society becomes, the more we need to get back to the basic fundamentals of human connection. I don’t care how advanced technology gets. I don’t think there’s anything that can replace looking someone in the eyes, touching their hand, that feeling…Empathy is one of the greatest creators of energy.”
Steve Jobs didn’t build a company computer. He set out to create tools that would help people unleash their creative potential. Building on that legacy, Ahrendts says her goal is to create community spaces that foster human connection and experiences.
As traditional brick-and-mortar stores shut their doors at a record pace — and online retailers such as Amazon experiment with brick-and-mortar stores — the category is ripe for innovation once again. The winners might be those who ask more empowering questions.