Good To Great To Different

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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:

  • A common purpose.
  • A long-term focus.
  • Emotional engagement.
  • Partnering with the public.
  • Innovation
  • Self-Organization.

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?


  1. Wow, I’m on my 3rd full read of this one. I can’t decide if it’s inspirational, encouraging, or intimidating. Maybe all of the above 🙂
    I always enjoy you walking us through your thought process around complex business ideas like this.
    Thank you.

  2. Great write up! I really believe in these things you mentioned; A long-term focus,
    Emotional engagement, Partnering with the public and Innovation. Cornerstones for success. Everyone buys based on emotion, always have always will, unless we become emotionless beings. Emotion is part of engagement, the two are married to each other, and the relationship can be wonderfully effective when used with good, honest intention.

  3. Coming from an office with a close-knit team, I think culture is a huge factor of a company being great. We don’t mind staying late at the office, bouncing ideas off of each other, or hanging out together on weekends. We respect each other , and I think that is a key element that allows us create amazing products.

  4. Mitch,
    Its been a while. Simply put: our task is to create economic value for our clients (as to survive and prosper) and create social (and useful) value for its customers. The trick is keepi it simple.

  5. A question that definitely deserves to be answered by every decision-maker that offers a product or service. Companies should take the time on a regular basis to reflect upon and define their core values and foundations of creation. The building blocks that created the company can change and should change. This process is normally feared upon because the exercise requires deep thought and reflection. Most importantly risk that could lead to failure! That’s right I said it, the “F” word. No one wants to change a block of foundation that may bring down the glass tower. However, if you do not change to accommodate the new challenges that face your clients today and tomorrow you will not exist. This concept is not new. Why do so many companies like Blockbuster and soon to be Blackberry die? They did not keep up to their clients needs and really take the time to observe what was happening with technology, innovation, and most importantly a conversation with their customers. Do the same needs and desires exist today or in the future? If not what building blocks need to change so we can continue to deliver our clients solutions that will make a remarkable achievement every time. This is not easy but that’s a good thing. If you want to be great take the time to be GREAT! If you want to be remarkable take the time to be REMARKABLE! Thanks Mitch, keep inspiring us!

  6. Love this Mitch. I’ve always thought the idea of a business “thinking differently” was a fun rabbit hole to walk down. Although to think different is only celebrated if success follows. I think what is best is to celebrate a culture of testing something new. To make it ok to hypothesize, test, and find a new way to do something in business. Add the guiding hand of a leader who can edit those “new ways” down to the ones that will build something bigger for the business and their customer.

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