by Kenneth Rudich
‘We’re gambling on our vision, and we would rather do that than make “me too” products. Let some other companies do that. For us, it’s always the next dream.’
Steve Jobs, former Chairman and CEO of Apple Inc.
In the last post, the one about latent demand, we borrowed the above quote from Steve Jobs to help explain the unique character of this consumer category. We also provided a few actual for-profit examples to further illustrate how this form of consumer demand stands apart from the other two.
Only later did we consider adding one more example, a not-for-profit example, to fully complete our discussion by showing the applicability of this concept in another environment — one that caters to the common good of the public at-large rather than the private good of individual customers. This post, then, is that type of example.
You’ll appreciate the worth of this content so much more if you’re acquainted with the concept of latent consumer demand. Should you need, I strongly recommend taking a moment to glance at the latent post before moving on now with this. It’s a short read, and quite interesting in its own right.
Either way, here’s the remarkable story of a successful attempt to nurture latent consumer demand in the not-for-profit government sector.
The World Stage
During the height of the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, a space race erupted when the Soviets surprised the world by being the first to successfully launch a satellite into orbit around the earth in 1957, named Sputnik 1. It was especially unsettling for the U.S. to be upstaged in such a big way by its number one foe and communist threat. The gnawing impact on national pride left the country in a kind of lingering funk, and it was having a difficult time trying to shake it.
Shortly after becoming President in 1960, John Kennedy sensed the need for trying to pull the nation out from under this cloud. Knowing it would require something more grand and awe-inspiring than what the Soviet Union had already achieved, he set forth the lofty ambition in 1961 to put an American on the moon by the close of the decade.
It was an unexpected proclamation – a bold, daring and courageous thing to say aloud for the world to hear. Skeptics immediately wrote it off as a pipe dream, while critics quickly panned it. Many others regarded it as a display of youthful arrogance rather than mindful resolve. After all, it didn’t seem obvious that this was doable at the time. The U.S. had yet to orbit the earth let alone reach the moon, which made the prospect of “foot-in-mouth” disease seem the more likely outcome to lay ahead on the horizon.
(Note: The first U.S. manned mission into space with Alan Shepard had occurred only 20 days earlier, just ahead of the President’s announcement. Unlike the first Soviet manned mission that did orbit the earth a few weeks before it, this 15 minute sub-orbital flight essentially flew straight up and down. It did not orbit the earth. Hence, the U.S. remained behind in the space race.)
But once the President had audibly taken this incredible leap, there was no turning back. So it got transformed from a fanciful sci-fi diversion to a visibly active national goal. And the world, to be sure, was watching.
As history now reveals, it was one of the nation’s greatest accomplishments, both in feat and in value. More than merely putting a man on the moon in July of 1969, it became a catalyst for lifting the American spirit, and for restoring the national confidence to once again resume a world-wide leadership role. It had struck an emotional chord, and it had done so with undeniable power.
Can you see the similarity between this gamble by John Kennedy and the culture Steve Jobs implanted at Apple? How the solutions themselves were so far-fetched as to initially strain all belief beyond ordinary boundaries, and yet become highly successful when put to the test?
Can you see how both leaders had the extraordinary knack, a genuine instinct, for germinating ideas that stirred the human spirit and stoked latent consumer demand?
Leadership Category for Jeopardy!
If ever you find yourself on the game show Jeopardy! and hear Alex Trebek say, “Both men had a knack for courting latent consumer demand,” you now know the correct response is:
“What special aptitude did Steve Jobs and President John F. Kennedy have in common?”