Framework for Avoiding Mediocrity - Apple as an example

Most things by definition are created average. Here is a mental framework for creating exceptional products with examples from Apple

Note this isn't an official framework Apple uses internally. Neither this post nor the author are in any way affiliated with Apple. It is however a framework you can use to understand how Apple prioritizes building products and the closest outside guess to Apples product prioritization framework.

Mental Framework

Every task or product decision should be put into one of 4 buckets:

1. Not important.

Don't do it.

2. Not important. But needs to be done.

Do the bare minimum

3. Important

As good as the best. Copy the best.

4. Most important.

Innovate to make sure it’s better than the best.

Isnt this obvious?

It is mostly. However there is one notable exception. Average. If it's looking like what you are going to do is average you are better off doing the bare minimum.

If a task is between important and not important go either way do as good as best or bare minimum. Don't do average.

Apple as an example:

Apple is probably the most intense when using this framework. A great example is their history with headphones. For years Apple shipped below average headphones with their iPhones and iPods. Apple's headphones never competed with the likes of Bose. There was nothing new, nothing innovative about them. They needed to be there for Apple's core products to function and they were. They fell into the bucket of ‘2. Not important, but needs to be done.’ Apple even encouraged you to buy third party headphones.

Once Apple noticed a new innovative product that was gaining traction (the Bragi Dash on kickstarter, and possibly before this) they created a best in class product the Apple Air Pods. This suddenly took their headphone offering from below average to best in class. You could say they were copies of the best or they were better than the best but they certainly weren't average. This had become a category that was now important to Apple. Once the Air Pods took off Apple pushed it to the next level moving it to most important creating the Air Pods Pro leaving everyone in their dust.

Other examples of products from Apple in each category

  1. Search - Don't care, won't do

  2. iCloud/Safari- I'd argue it's the bare minimum they can get away with

  3. Airpods Max - as good as the best

  4. MacBook/iPad - better than the best

Even if you don't agree with the categorisation you'll probably still agree that Apple has below average products and best in class products but they don't create average products. That is why they have the market dominance they do.

Even Apple fails occasionally:

One example of Apple failing to follow this philosophy is in their maps product. Apple Maps really is a very “average” product which came nowhere close to competing with Google Maps. It's very existence necessitates doing more than the bare minimum which would have been to show Google Maps pre-installed. Word is that they are taking this shortcoming seriously and looking to launch a new redesigned Maps soon.

Using this framework daily

This was originally a slack post shared with the team at Nanonets. We use this on a daily basis when scoping tasks. We ask ourselves:

Do we need to do the bare minimum or best in class?

Depending on the the answer:

A) If bare minimum then the follow up question is do we even need to do it?

B) If best in class should we copy the best or be better than the best?

If you don't hold yourself to this standard you will mostly end up shipping average features that lead to average products.

Note: everything about your product need not be best in class. Only the the features that you matter to your customers and to you as a product/company, which also depends on and will change with the stage you are at.

I'm the CEO at Nanonets, we are building AI to help machines see the world - starting with documents.

I write about startups, products and technology.