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01.4.2016 What can we learn from Apple on their 40th anniversary: Weekender Column 103


Forty years ago today Ronald Wayne; Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs founded a little start-up technology company called Apple. After forty years of twists and turns including verging on bankruptcy, it now sits atop the NASDAQ as the most valuable company in the world with a current market capitalisation of US$672 billion. The combined market cap of Microsoft and Google – at three and four on the NASDAQ - only just overshadow Apple. To gain some appreciation of their dominant position, their US$234 billion revenue last year was built on the back of incredible sales including selling an iPhone every 8 seconds.

Some may argue that Apple is the most successful company ever.

That then begs the question for local government across the State. On the fortieth anniversary of a company with higher revenue than Hong Kong’s GDP, can we learn from what Apple does well and apply that in local government.

The first obvious flaw to my plan is that we are not selling products to a global audience in the same way that Apple is. Or are we? We may not think that Councils are selling anything but I beg to differ. I think Councils are constantly selling what we have to offer in our LGA and, increasingly, this is to a worldwide audience. Whether that audience is by way of tourists or new residents, it is a global world we live in. Today I am holding a citizenship ceremony where sixteen residents will be officially calling Australia home. I typically hold six of these a year and we welcome a stream of people from across the world to our LGA.

Back to Apple though. There have been books and doctorates written on why Apple has been so successful so I don’t want to turn this into an academic study but I want to look at a few simple aspects.

The first item that I notice with Apple is that their employees don’t just use their products, but they really want their products. They can’t want for the latest iteration of a product and they really want to use all of its features. I have an expression that says you need to ‘drink your own lemonade’ and Apple employees do that. This is an easy one for Councils. It is a huge advantage if a Council has employees that don’t just live in the LGA where they work but also are involved in the community. That can be with sport or with community organisations. If people see Council employees engaged and involved in the community, they want to be part of that community as well. Many employees do not realise the advocacy power they hold with each seemingly simple conversation or comment.

The second aspect that stands out with Apple is that they have created devices that are easy to use. Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player and even when they brought out an incredibly slick iPod on 23 October 2001, the world of portable music was still ruled by the Sony Walkman. That all changed though on 28 April 2003 when the iTunes Music Store made it incredibly easy to add music – legally – to your iPod. The 30 billion songs that have been sold via iTunes shows that people are prepared to pay for ease of use. How does that translate to Councils? We can all ask ourselves how easy we are to deal with. When developers or residents seek information, do we make it complicated or easy? Do we suggest ways of interacting with Council that will ultimately lead to better outcomes or are we so focused on our own silo of information that we don’t step back and look at it from the perspective of the person on the other side of the counter. My phrase for this is that ‘adequate is not adequate’ and we can do things correctly without ensuring that we create an environment of ease of use.

The last item that I have room to discuss is that Apple keeps it simple. When many manufacturers offer choice after choice and options galore, Apple typically releases a small number of options but makes sure they are best of breed. The logic here is that it is easy to be confused with a purchase you might make once every couple of years so it can actually delay the purchasing decision by having too many choices. Richard and Maurice McDonald realised this same concept was true and on 12 December 1948 the brothers opened their new-look restaurant which reduced twenty-five menu items down to just hamburgers; chips and drinks. This is a tougher one for Councils. There are some aspects of legislation that we must adhere to that are, by their nature, complicated. In many ways though we can over-complicate relatively simple aspects of local government and we have to be mindful that when we are intimately involved in a process, we can sometimes become bogged down with minutiae. We have to always remember to ask ourselves how a decision will be of benefit to the majority of residents and can we explain it in a simple fashion.

So there is my very quick analysis. Happy anniversary Apple and hopefully our sector can learn some aspects from your success. Let me know what you think the secret to Apple’s success is at mayor@dubbo.nsw.gov.au.