Steve Jobs: "The Deviant's Advantage" (AAPL)

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Sociologist and business consultant Watts Wacker has pointed out that the most successful enterprises in the world are created by people who are willing to be a zebra in a field of horses. His rather rough way of describing this is "the deviant’s advantage." Steve Jobs has had that advantage throughout his business career.

The longest shot Jobs ever took may have been to launch the Macintosh in 1984 into a world that would be dominated by the PC. The competition from the more popular format eventually cost him his job as the head of Apple (AAPL). He simply left and created Next and Pixar. When things got worse at Apple, he was asked to run Apple again.

Steve Jobs said goodbye to running Apple yesterday, at least for now. He had taken the very long shot of getting into the portable multimedia business with the iPod when it was far from clear that there was any real business there. Apple then had the audacity to move into the handset business which had been essentially locked up by five big companies led by Nokia (NOK), Samsung, and RIM (RIMM).

If Jobs has any forefather in the history of American enterprise, it is not a inventor like Thomas Edison. The figure most like Jobs is Sam Walton who founded Wal-Mart (WMT) just after WWII. He came out of Oklahoma, which means out of nowhere. There was absolutely no chance that his small chain of stores could compete with Sears or JC Penney, where he worked as a trainee before the war.

Walton was able to see a road that no one else could see, or even imagine. A national retail store could offer remarkably inexpensive and well-made goods if it could source them and distribute them better than the competition. His stores did not need to match the elegance of the larger competition. They needed to be functional and provide an unexpected value.

Jobs looked at his market differently. He was not in the least bothered by having the most expensive products or products which were functionally incompatible with devices that had dominant market share. His assumption, as unlikely as it appeared, was that the best product did not have to be like any other product as long as it had superior function and design.

Jobs has been successful because he believed in his technology and he did not care about what the outside world told him about what wouldn’t work. All he could see was opportunity.

Douglas A. McIntyre