Today is the launch of the iPhone 11. Product launches at the Apple stores were the favorite moments of my stint at Apple. They were also the most significant moments of growth.
In a way, I believe everyone could relate to a product launch event at an Apple store. We probably had similar kind of experiences in our lives. These experiences could be a musical performance you had spent weeks preparing for, or a vital basketball game that you had to win, or a sales pitch that you had pulled all-nighters to perfect. These were events where the energy was high. They required a lot of planning and involved working closely as a team. They were probably hard, extremely tactical, and emotional.
Yes, the cheering and clapping in the Apple stores on days like today could come across as superficial. Or you might say, “It’s just a phone.” Some would also say, “Why dramatize and complicate this so much?” All these perceptions are true and accurate. What I have found useful is to look at what one gets to learn from these events, instead of only being analytical about them.
Apple product launches involved hundreds of people executing together. It involved a lot of planning to make sure things work. And the definition of “things working” was also very different from what one might typically imagine.
The goal was not about how many phones we got to sell. Instead, it was about how many happy customers we got to create. The expectations of our customers were very high for such expensive purchases. You wouldn’t expect much buying the fruit apple, but it was human nature to unconsciously expect a lot more when you were spending thousands of dollars on an Apple iPhone.
The circumstances in the stores were not the best for anyone to feel happy: The stores would feel chaotic and overcrowded. Setting up the new phones could take hours because everyone would be trying to back up and then restore terabytes of personal data. Plus, many of the customers were ardent fans, and they would react to delight and disappointment with equal passion.
At the same time, by launch day, our leaders would have already worked for days to plan and strategize. How do we handle the journey of thousands of very eager customers? How do we make sure we get all the thousands of new products received? What are ways to keep the store’s vibe going? The larger store teams would need to serve customers after customers, answer questions repeatedly, and showcase all the newest bells and whistles of the latest products. They had to do this for 8 hours straight, and they had to be smiling genuinely from their hearts. They had to maintain their patience and desire to listen to our customers and help them find the best products for them. Therefore as leaders, we had to perfect what I called “sustained motivation”: It is a skill to get a large group of minds to get all rallied up in one speech; it is an art to get a large group of tired folks to maintain their desire to figure out the impossible art of bringing joy and delight to others. Lastly, it was the best training I have ever had trying to execute all these with, and through a group of leaders.
I am fully aware that some would find all these overly dramatized. The way I looked at these launch events was straightforward. Like most of you, I had most of these adrenaline-filled events back in my school years. As I got older, I didn’t get to experience them as often, especially in the workplace. The complexity was never the same. The teamwork felt different. The sense of wonderment that perhaps stemmed from a genuine sense of naivety and novelty, never fully returned. I knew as I migrate from middle-age to old age, these experiences would become fewer and fewer. Therefore when I realized I had the opportunities to re-experience these moments again, I made sure I got the most out of them. And I did.
Lastly, fun in life, including work, is quite simple. Quoting Tobi Lütke, the founder of Shopify:
“It’s the amount of impact you can have on what’s going on, the amount of autonomy you get to solve problems, the tight and fast-paced relationship you have around you. It is the feeling of going through an epic journey surrounded by friends.”
I am grateful I got to experience that over and over again, whenever Apple launched a new product, or when Nike brought Kobe Bryant to Beijing/launched a pair of crazy new sneaker, in the last 15 years.