Issue 109 - 05 | Comparing Apple to Plastic Bricks: Why Steve Jobs Was Great for Products, but Lousy as a Management Model

By David Robertson
Published Sept. 11, 2013 10:00 a.m.
“When people talk about innovation in business, a single company—Apple—usually gets all the attention. ... Many managers ask: How do I follow in Apple’s footsteps? ... The truth is Apple is no model for innovation management. Steve Jobs was utterly one of a kind. He co-founded Apple and made it in his own image. No other “Steve” would have anywhere near the clout or force of personality. And don’t try finding one in the first place, as people like that simply don’t come around that often.

So ignore all the lessons about innovation management that you might be tempted to learn from business press articles about Apple. There are much better examples for you to consider.

One of the best is LEGO. Yes, the plastic brick company. The 80-year old, family-owned business is one of the giants of the toy industry, with $4 billion in sales and $1.3 billion in profits in 2012. Revenue growth for the past five years has averaged 24 percent per year, and profit growth a stunning 40% per year.

Growth like that keeps occurring year-in and year-out because after a lot of trial and error, LEGO has created an extraordinarily effective system of innovation management that works within a traditional management structure.”

About David Robertson | David Robertson is a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School where he teaches Innovation and Product Development in Wharton’s undergraduate, MBA, and executive education programs. From 2002 through 2010, Robertson was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland’s Institute for Management Development (IMD), which received the #1 worldwide ranking by the Financial Times for its executive education programs. At IMD he was Program Director for IMD’s largest program, the Program for Executive Development, and co-Director of the Making Business Sense of IT program, a joint program between IMD and MIT Sloan.

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