In explaining his strategy for Apple Inc.’s success, the late Steve Jobs remarked that most businesses get their approach the wrong way round. They look at what they are selling in three stages. What is it? How does it work? Why are we producing it? In short, Jobs believed this resulted in the creation of dull, inspired products – products which could not contribute to the long-term resonance of a brand. Products which would ultimately fail.
So Jobs decided to flip this formula on its head. In devising Apple’s overarching strategy, Jobs decided that what mattered most was why the product / brand was needed. What mattered second most was what the product / brand did. And what was least important was how it worked. This thinking influenced another beautifully simple Jobs formulation – that Apple’s products must all: 1. Look good, 2. Be easy to use, 3. Work.
Perhaps this sounds trite, but it’s a remarkably elegant way of thinking about business strategy. It is akin to Alastair Campbell’s Objective, Strategy, Tactics formulation I wrote about recently – where strategy flows from the objective and tactics from the strategy. Getting the vision right is crucial, as is sticking to the strategy once it’s deployed. Stray far outside of your strategic parameters, and your vision will evaporate into thin air before you know it.
In the present day, Tony Blair’s name has once again been trending on Twitter. The former Labour prime minister has been discussing his early political life as a Trotskyist, as well as his erstwhile admiration for his eventual nemesis – Gordon Brown. Every time Blair returns, it reminds me that those in the Labour Party who are closer to his politics than to Jeremy Corbyn’s have little or none of the sort of vision once set out by New Labour. I include myself in this sorry category, and the search for this vision was the reason this website was created.
So-called Labour moderates are very good at talking about what Labour needs to do – most often: win elections. We are also very good at talking about how to win elections (although some of the more bellicose Corbynites on Twitter often remark that “the Blairites haven’t won an election since 2005”.). What seems to be lacking more than anything from the moderates’ political sail, though, is why Labour needs to win.
This matters now, more than ever, as the dividing lines in British politics become increasingly stark. Fudged messaging and fake nuance are hardly the order of the day – just ask the Lib Dems. If you can’t inspire people, offer hope and, yes, a vision for the future, then you’re simply shouting into the wind. Coming up with why can be easy or it can be hard – depending on how good you are at politics – but what it will always be is essential.
If so-called Labour moderates – myself included – want to get a hearing over the next few years, then our message needs to be far bolder than a recourse to technocratic tinkering. There is a yawning gulf on the centre-left of British politics. It won’t be filled by a new party – a venture which would be doomed to failure – so it must be filled by centre-left Labour moderates with the courage to answer basic questions about why the Labour Party needs to exist in 2017 and beyond.
Frame this around issues like automation, climate change, a more ethical foreign policy, the Britain left behind by globalisation, and an inspiring vision for this country in a post-Brexit era, and the how and what will flow from this. It will take time – perhaps many years – but it must be done not for the cause of our own ideological agendas, but for the sake of our country.