Alicia Keys: The Next Steve Jobs?
Feb 4, 2013 5:00 AM PT
What folks who haven't read any of the early Steve Jobs biographies don't know is that Steve Jobs -- at least, the way he was seen in public -- wasn't any more real than Ronald McDonald.
He was a creation of Apple's advertising agency that successfully reformed Steve, a slovenly guy who didn't like to shower, flush the toilet, or wear shoes -- and had a tendency to cry if he didn't get his way -- into the near- superhuman person we saw on stage.
Bill Gates had a bit of a makeover as well, but not nearly to the extent Steve did.
This is not a trivial effort, and it really means being on stage for much of your life and rarely letting your hair down. Given that Steve tended to be, well, let's just say, not very nice interpersonally -- unless he was trying to sell you -- this act was likely core to his success. Still it is a skill more likely found in an entertainer than in a CEO.
I'd pretty much given up hope that anyone else would try this Jack in the Box approach to a CEO's image when I saw Alicia Keys on stage at the BlackBerry 10 launch. Her presentation gave me a big "what if" moment, and I'd like to share that with you this week.
As always, I'll close with my product of the week: the BlackBerry Z10.
Starting With an Entertainer
I've often thought that if I wanted to recreate the impact of Steve Jobs with another company, it would be best to start with an entertainer, particularly a successful one who had a following. This is because an entertainer would already know how to behave in public and would start with a fan base that could likely be converted to the product -- if the spokesperson truly believed in it.
This is what makes Alicia Keys interesting as BlackBerry's new global creative director. She not only seemed to know how to handle a tech press conference very well -- she was dressed more as a sharp businesswoman than an entertainer -- but before accepting the role she met with the BlackBerry engineering team to make sure she could make a difference.
She also indicated she would quit if for any reason she felt the BlackBerry folks weren't actually listening to her. In short, she clearly believed her title of "creative director" was far more than honorary, and she planned to have on impact on future products.
Keys also had an agenda, which could turn out to be an asset or a liability. Her agenda was to ensure that BlackBerry would better address the unmet needs of female smartphone buyers. This would be an asset if successful, largely because the existing tech industry largely ignores women when designing product. However, it would be a liability if her inexperience forced BlackBerry to create a product that didn't work well.
Steve Jobs almost did the last, by the way, as he once asked the Apple engineers to create a symmetrical motherboard. They did -- it didn't work, though I often wonder if they intentionally made it so the motherboard would fail because they thought the idea was stupid.
If Keys grew her position to become the stage presence for BlackBerry and blended in her performance experience to create more exciting launches -- much like Jobs stage managed the most famous of his launches -- the result could outshine Apple. This is because, as a top tier entertainer, Keys is far better trained (or works with people who are) than Jobs could ever hope to be. Creating visual excitement is what a leading entertainer in Keys' field must do.
Wrapping Up: Turning Potential Into Reality
The odds are really long that BlackBerry will turn Keys into the asset for them she could be. We clearly didn't see that at the BlackBerry 10 launch, which was one of the better launches but wasn't in the same league with a top concert in terms of excitement or effects.
Granted, she only came on board recently and, given BlackBerry's business focus, there would likely be some resistance to fully leveraging Keys. If BlackBerry does, though, I do believe it could easily outshine Tim Cook's Apple -- and maybe even Steve Jobs'.
There's some amazing potential here; I just hope BlackBerry's top execs can see it and have the vision to turn Alicia Keys into the amazing asset to BlackBerry she could become.
Product of the Week: BlackBerry Z10
I've been using the BlackBerry Z10 for about a week now and it is kind of the anti-iPhone. It is about the same in terms of dimensions, that's where the similarities end. It is black to the iPhone's silver; it has standard USB and HDMI ports to the proprietary ports of the iPhone; it has a removable battery; it's app launch partners include SAP, Citrix and BMC, while Apple appears to do business by accident; and it has an interface that's redesigned for the thumb. In short, the BlackBerry Z10 is pretty much the antithesis of the iPhone.
Now that is differentiation. For the smartphones of today, it is less about how they look and more about what they can connect to and what you can do with them. The core message that surrounds this phone is that it is there for you if your job depends on it.
Yes it'll do the fun stuff, but if your income depends on a phone, it was designed with that in mind. It's more a professional with a sense of humor than a jokester that sometimes has to work. I like devices with personality because you can decide more easily if the device was designed for you. The BlackBerry likes to play -- it just seems to know that work often has to take priority.
Clearly, the iPhone remains more advanced with entertainment and number of apps but there are a lot of people who need to use a phone for work, not just for play, and the BlackBerry has them it its sights. Since I'm one of those people -- I have a Kindle for play -- the BlackBerry Z10 is my product of the week.