Tony Fadell had a big idea to pursue what he loved and address an unmet need of music lovers. It was February 2001 and the recorded music world was in chaos. 26 million people were using the peer to peer music sharing site Napster to share MP3 digital music files. People were burning CDs to play on their portable music players and stereos. They were hooking up speakers to their computers to listen. Some were able to figure out how to load select music on MP3 players. The MP3 players had minimal capacity, a short battery life and were heavier than portable CD players.
Tony believed there was better way. Tony’s big idea was to make an easy to use MP3 player, a simple way for people to manage their music and a Napster like service to legally purchase music. Little did Tony know that a judge would shut down Napster 5 months later.
Tony left his job at Phillips the previous year. He left to create a company called Fuse to implement his big idea. Once his company failed, he pitched his idea to several companies. There was interest from only one. It was a company that was $500M in debt, yet it was improving after its founder Steve Jobs came back to generate success with a new computer called the iMac. It was also just one month after Jobs announced a new offering called iTunes.
Apple engaged Tony as an independent contractor to help them explore some kind of device that would complement iTunes. Eight weeks later, Tony pitched the idea of an MP3 player to Steve Jobs. Tony was then hired to lead the initial 30 person iPod development team. Soon Jobs took daily interest in the iPod development.
To make a dream, big idea or a breakthrough innovation like an iPod happen, it requires understanding many specific areas of knowledge. It also requires understanding how the dream or big idea relates to the knowledge. While Jobs drove the direction of iPod development direction, it was Tony that had to understand enough about each knowledge area to respond to the requests of the great innovator. When Jobs was frustrated he couldn’t get to the song he wanted in less than three pushes of a button, Tony had to either push back or find a solution.
The many knowledge areas that need to be understood and synthesized into the dream or big idea and making it happen include:
Functional Knowledge – Accounting (profitability), Finance (funds to build), Legal (patents, trademarks, music intellectual property rights), Marketing (awareness, creating brand), sales (online, stores), engineering (design, build),
Domain Knowledge (Science & Technology) – micro hard drives, lithium-ion battery, liquid Crystal Displays, DRAM cache, signal compression, fire-wire (connection to computer),
Industry Knowledge – Music industry, Online Retail (iTunes), electronics manufacturing (device), logistics and supply chain,
Skills/Expertise Knowledge – software engineering (Macs, PCs, device), user interfaces design, industrial design (scroll wheel button), other creative design and packaging
Funding Knowledge – Apple was already $500M and decided to risk taking on more debt
Resources Knowledge – Apple was a PC company and had to research and purchase many new products and services to produce the iPod
October 2011, Jobs introduced the iPod with the tag line “100 songs in my pocket”. Tony, now called the father of the iPod, stayed on to lead the iPod team and later the iPhone team that introduced its game changing product in 2007. Tony later moved on to his next big idea. He invented the Nest thermostat, which changes the way we manage temperature in our homes.
The iPod was not about the device. It was about understanding the user (beneficiary) and the many knowledge components of music listening to create a better overall experience. Tony believes that Apple made the iPod and the iDevices what they are. “Without the computing platform of Apple, it could all have been swallowed up by a Sony and we wouldn’t be where we are.” As Simon Sinek eloquently described, Apple is able to focus on how you feel about the experience rather than the product.
The iPod was a breakthrough innovation, it changed the way music is purchased, managed, stored, and how we experience it.
If you have a dream or big idea, what areas of knowledge do you need a better understanding to synthesize a solution and enablement strategy to make it happen? It could be helping your child earn a college degree or developing a new service for your community. It is unlikely to have as many knowledge components as Tony’s. Understanding the functional, domain, industry, skills/expertise, funding and resource knowledge (or hiring Tony) can help to make almost anything happen.