How Consensus Thinking Would Have Killed the Apple Store

Apple Store, Danbury, CT, at 6:50 AM on 12/23, 10 minutes before opening.The Apple Store is one of the decade’s most phenomenal success stories. But last week, waiting for one of the company’s gleaming glass boxes to open, I wondered how the concept ever got to market in the first place.

Think about it: Gateway Computer had the same idea in the 1990s, and it imploded. Brick-and-mortar stores were supposed to be replaced by the Internet. And malls were on their death beds.

But those were just the easy objections. Watching employees prepare the surreally empty store to open, I thought of many more targets for a consensus-driven committee:

Customers will camp out just to get free Internet. Teenagers will clog the place. Kids will surf for porn. Those keyboards are going to be germ farms. How are we going to chain everything down? 

This kind of “black hat” thinking goes on far too early and often in most companies. And the result is a lot of great ideas get shot down, or—worse yet—gruesomely disfigured.

Imagine an Apple Store where all the iStuff was behind a counter and you needed to get a number to have a salesman “demonstrate” a product to you, obtaining your name and e-mail address first.

Lesson learned: Next time you pitch an idea, make sure the marketing objective is equally irresistible and intoxicating—and always in clear view of every Safire-esque nattering nabob of negativism. 

The smart folks in Cupertino never aimed to merely open an “Apple Store.” They wanted to create the coolest place to discover and experience their products. Then they figured out how, even if that meant taking some risks—and overcoming the corrosivity of consensus thinking.