Scott Adams [Dilbert] bows at Steve Jobs’ crisis management skills.
I’m sure you’re all following the iPhone 4 story. If you hold the phone a certain way, it drops calls.
In a press conference on the subject, Steve Jobs said, “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy.”
Jobs got a lot of heat about his response. Where was the apology? Where was the part where he acknowledged that the buck stops with him, and that Apple made a big mistake that never should have happened? That’s public relations 101, right?
I’m a student of how language influences people. Apple’s response to the iPhone 4 problem didn’t follow the public relations playbook because Jobs decided to rewrite the playbook. (I pause now to insert the necessary phrase Magnificent Bastard.) If you want to know what genius looks like, study Jobs’ words: “We’re not perfect. Phones are not perfect. We all know that. But we want to make our users happy.”
Jobs changed the entire argument with nineteen words. He was brief. He spoke indisputable truth. And later in his press conference, he offered clear fixes.
Did it work? Check out the media response. There’s lots of talk about whether other smartphones are perfect or not. There’s lots of talk about whether Jobs’ response was the right one. But the central question that was in everyone’s head before the press conference – “Is the iPhone 4 a dud” – has, well, evaporated. Part of the change in attitude is because the fixes Apple offered are adequate. But those fixes easily could have become part of the joke if handled in an apologetic “please kick me” way.
If Jobs had not changed the context from the iPhone 4 in particular to all smartphones in general, I could make you a hilarious comic strip about a product so poorly made that it won’t work if it comes in contact with a human hand. But as soon as the context is changed to “all smartphones have problems,” the humor opportunity is gone. Nothing kills humor like a general and boring truth.
The fact that the iPhone 4 is, in fact, a dud has been, at least temporarily, obscured by this brilliant jujitsu. But, it turns out, most of iPhone’s competitors still work if you hold them using your hands.