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Wicked Problems Explored

Apple’s Wicked “Cool” Problem

iPod. iMac. iPad. iPhone.  For the better part of a decade, any time a word was preceded by a lowercase “i” you knew – you just knew – it was going to be cool.  How would you define that cool?  It’s not just the products themselves but the feelings that come with them.  Those white earphones – out there for everyone to see (and thus know you’ve got an iSomething of your own) meant something.  Special.  Different.  Unique.  Cool.  As the cool increased, so did sales.  But like anything, not even this could last forever.

End of the line?

After 26 consecutive quarters of growth in iPhone sales Apple has warned that their seemingly unstoppable rise from the ashes is coming to an end as they expect the first decrease in sales since the device launched.  The markets of course went into mini meltdown and the question has been raised once more –how is Apple going to stay “cool?”

While this may seem like a basic sales issue with a simple answer (Release something new! Enter new markets!) there is a far wickeder problem that underlies it: Apple’s run of “cool” is slowly coming to its seemingly natural end.

On a product level, the iPhone is now moving into “dog” mode according to BCG’s positions through the product life cycle.  Fine.  New product, problem solved.   That could have been true were the broader brand maintaining its cool but Apple just isn’t doing that anymore, and their success is part of it.

How cool brands stay hot

In their book How cool brands stay hot: branding to Generation Y, Van den Bergh and Behrer, identify the 8 most important brand characteristics for young consumers.  While Apple is still killing it on 7 of them – has its own style, makes me feel happy, is up-to-date, has a clean reputation, is real/authentic, is something I can identify with & is clear and simple – the eighth is something that becoming a global sales success works against – “is unique.”

Apple moved 150 million iPhones in the last two quarters.  There is nothing unique about owning one anymore.  CMO adds scarcity and rebellion to that list.  Apple products aren’t scarce.  Chances are if you can afford one, at this stage, you have one.  In a world where everyone wants one and those who can have one do, then there’s really no rebellion either.

Solving Apple’s problem

So then, what can Apple do to solve this wicked “cool” problem?  The easy answer would be to accept the downslide, head into temporary dormancy and re-emerge with something unique, scarce and slightly rebellious, which has always been at the heart of Apple.  Though easy, that solution – to effectively minimize profits – works against every instinct of the private sector.

Our solution – a truly wicked one – is to put the underlying message of that ad into action: think different to drive innovation through divergence.  What could spark different thinking more than “tapping the expertise of people in distant, analogous fields?”  This concept is still in its infancy but we think it’s key to wicked problem solving and practice it ourselves, because “do nothing” is never a great answer.

Solving your problem

If you’re ready for some innovation through divergence to tackle your own wicked problems, get in touch. It’s what we do and we’re here to help you work through the biggest challenges you face.

For more information, contact us at: [email protected]

Have a wicked problem that needs solving? Get in touch for a free assessment

Have a wicked problem that needs solving? Get in touch for a free assessment

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If you want a different approach; if you’ve never used consultants before; if the project’s failed a time or two already; or you need an urgent solution to a Wicked Problem, contact us.

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