Technophrenia

Technophrenia

Part of Apple’s success comes from giving us a sense of making progress

Making Progress.

The world’s move into the mobile post-PC age has accelerated, it seems, after Apple’s record quarterly sales of 74.5 million iPhones. To put this in perspective, this is almost the same as the total global quarterly sales of PCs, which were around 84 million.

Because of the large amount of profit Apple makes from the iPhone, its profit was a record-breaking $18 billion. This compares with Lenovo, the world’s largest PC manufacturer, whose last quarter saw them make just $262 million in profits.

The drivers behind Apple’s success

Although the drivers behind Apple’s success include those that are specific to the brand, it is what the phone means in terms of social- and self-identity that determines the difference between buying a Samsung phone and an Apple one.

But there is another psychological driver that could be a candidate behind why Apple has succeeded where companies like Samsung have struggled.

This driver is one that, according to Harvard Professor Teresa Amabile, is behind what motivates us at work and leads to the greatest levels of job satisfaction. Through extensive interviews and surveys of employers and employees, Amabile and her team distilled down the factor behind creative satisfaction and motivation at work to the feeling of “making progress”. This work actually builds on research reported in the 1960’s by Frederick Herzberg which stated that the principle driver behind worker motivation was a sense of “achievement”.

Interestingly, although the research has consistently reinforced the view that making progress and achievement are highly motivating, senior managers and even CEOs commonly rank this driver at the bottom of what they consider important in motivating workers. This probably explains why many workplaces overwhelmingly give their employees a sense of futility in trying to effect change or contribute in such a way that workers get a sense that they are achieving something significant through their work.

It is unsurprising then that Gallup has reported consistently that almost 70% of US workers are not engaged or are actively disengaged with their work.

How does Apple give us the sense of “making progress”?

Apple, and to a lesser extent Google, have brought out a new phone each year, along with new versions of the software that runs it. Each year, customers are able to upgrade the device that they increasingly use as the principal work productivity tool. 40% of US employees use their personal smartphones for work.

Contrast this with the fact that employers commonly only upgrade work tools such as PCs ever 4.5 years. Very few employers will be operating on the latest versions of operating systems and the entire environment is locked down with the employee given very little control over the work computing environment.

This technological stagnation at work is usually only one symptom of organisations that change very slowly, if at all. In such environments, individuals will find it difficult to experience any sense of “making progress” either in what they actually do, or how they go about doing it.

Being able to use your own device, upgraded each year, brings the very latest technological features along with the sense of being in control and making progress. Every year, the phones are faster, lighter, more secure and more functional. Every year, a new technological enabler is made available through the device. This year, for example, through Apple Pay, it is mobile electronic payments. At the very least, it gives employees the belief that they are on an equal footing with colleagues and competitors and are not being “extrinsically disadvantaged”.

The fact that companies are now supporting the ability of staff to use their own devices at work acknowledges that they will never be able to provide the flexibility that employees gain by being able to control this for themselves. In fact, the smartest thing companies could do would be to pay staff an extra bonus each year, specifically for this purpose.

Of course, what this means is that Apple can theoretically continue to succeed with its iPhone business by providing for workers what their own employers are unlikely ever to do and continue to give them the sense that we are all making progress.

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