Do you have a Hartmut Esslinger around?

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The Apple Design philosophy is commonly viewed as one of the pillars of Apple’s success.

Most people don't know how Apple went from their early designs to the latest designs.

They believe Steve Jobs was the person responsible for it.

But that is not the whole story.

Hartmut Esslinger was a designer that sought Apple out and played a major part in convincing Jobs of the importance of design, and importantly, that it had to be driven top down. (Usually, designers reported into Engineering or Marketing.) Read more about it here.

In 1982 he entered into an exclusive $1,000,000 per year contract with Apple Computer to create a design strategy which transformed Apple from a "Silicon Valley Start-Up" into a global brand. Setting up shop in California for the first time, Esslinger created the "Snow White design language" which was applied to all Apple product lines from 1984 to 1990, commencing with the Apple IIc and including the Macintosh computer. The original Apple IIc was voted it Design of the Year by Time .

The success of a company is not always how it seems.

People see Jobs, but behind the scenes there is an Esslinger.

People see the actor, but don’t know the writer who created the story for the actor to bring to life.

People see the dancer, but can’t name the choreographer – without whom the dance would not have had a dance.

This is not a post about the behind the scenes people. Ultimately Jobs still made the decision and gave the approvals.

It raises some questions for us to answer:

Most corporations and larger businesses are hell-bent on removing friction and creating an environment where everyone gets along. There is little room for the maverick and contrarians are not tolerated easily. Few CEOs are prepared to go on a limb. (Jobs genius is that his decisions appear obvious in hindsight but at the time it represented a major departure from the status quo.)

Almost invariably those contrarians and disruptors leave and take their ideas elsewhere – usually into their own start-up. Then they come back to haunt the comfortable corporation that was so focussed on making sure everyone was happy working there.

Too few CEOs have the courage to disrupt their own organisations, and those are the seeds of failure.