By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
President, bSci21Media, LLC
Everyone has to sell their ideas every day. The term “sell” doesn’t necessarily imply money, but it does imply persuasion — convincing people that your way is the right way. You can have the greatest idea ever, but if you can’t sell your idea to others it won’t get anywhere.
Steve Jobs grew Apple into the tech giant it is today because he knew how to do both — he had innovative, aesthetically-pleasing, designs and if you ever had a chance to see him live, he was a great showman who knew how to sell. Entrepeneur.com recently collected five well-known presentations from Mr. Jobs to illustrate his penchant for the sell.
1. The First Macintosh
In 1984, Steve Jobs unveiled the very first Macintosh computer to the world. He didn’t use PowerPoint or Keynote (which didn’t exist), and he didn’t even use slides (kids, slides were clear sheets of plastic that people would place in front of a projector that would enlarge the image for your audience). Instead, he showed a series of pictures and said “Everything you just saw was created by what’s in that bag.” He then walked over to a table and slowly pulled a bag off the computer, and left as Chariots of Fire began playing and graphics filled the computer screen.
2. The First iPhone
If you bombard your audience with product specs, you risk losing them. Steve Jobs knew this, so when he unveiled the first iPhone to the world, he focused on three. But here’s the catch — he made the audience expect three new products: an iPod, a phone, and an Internet device. The shocker, of course, was the revelation that all three devices were contained in one — the iPhone.
3. The First MacBook Air
The Air is known for its light weight and its thin profile. If we were selling it, most of us would likely fire up PowerPoint and drone on about these and a zillion other features. Not Steve Jobs. Instead, he pulled out a manilla envelope and said “It’s so thin it even fits inside one of those envelopes you see floating around the office.” He then slowly, and with much anticipation, pulled the laptop out of the envelope for the big reveal.
4. The iTunes Store
For this one, Jobs used a few slides. However, he used them in a clever way. iTunes debuted in 2003, when free music sites like Napster were still fresh in people’s minds. How, then, do you convince people to pay money for something they can get for free? Easy. Make them out to be the villain and you the hero. Free pricing came at a cost in terms of unreliable downloads, quality, the perception of stealing, etc… iTunes solved all of the problems, and for only 99 cents a song.
5. Reviving a Company
In 1997, Apple was near bankruptcy. Remember, this was a time with Microsoft Windows was all the rage. Windows 95 was a huge success, and Windows 98 would debut a year later. What did Jobs do? In a presentation at Macworld, he capitalized on the marginalized nature of Apple users. He framed their customers as different…but different in a creative genius sort of way. Apple makes tools for those types of people, according to Jobs. Needless to say, he rallied the troops and Apple is most certainly not anywhere near bankruptcy.
Why it Worked
The first three examples all involve experiential elements. Jobs wasn’t simply talking to his audience, he was having the product do the talking for him. The products themselves were stimuli. If you have a good product, then it will elicit positive reactions from others with little assistance from a talking head. Experiential exercises are heavily used in Applied Behavior Analysis, particularly in applications of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT). A central focus of ACT is to reduce pliance, or behaving with respect to rules maintained by other people, and to replace plys with tracks, or behaving with respect to the natural consequences that arise in a given setting, which produces flexible behavior. Jobs knew this, and he build an empire on it.
In the last two examples, Jobs had to transform how individuals were already responding to certain stimuli, such as Napster and near bankruptcy. To do this, he placed these stimuli into relational networks of opposition (i.e., iTunes is different from Napster. Our customers are different than Microsoft’s.). But that wasn’t enough. He needed something to drive home the sell…a carrot, so to speak. Napster wasn’t just different, they were bad. On top of that, iTunes was going to save you from them, and take your money while they’re at it! Similarly, Apple’s customers weren’t just different, they were special — a cut above the rest, and Apple was going to enable those special geniuses with their genius products. You, the Apple employee, suddenly become a little bit of a genius yourself as a result. This is Relational Frame Theory (RFT) in action folks — a modern behavioral perspective on language and cognition.
To read more about ACT and RFT, check out the many resources available at the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website.
Let us know your experiences selling your ideas and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!
Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at email@example.com.