As each post-Steve Jobs event comes and goes, I wonder whether they’ll ever use “One More Thing” again. For those who haven’t watched a Steve Jobs keynote, “One More Thing” is an anticipatory moment that the Apple faithful have come to expect at the end. Just when it appeared that Steve was done with his presentation, he’d stop, look confused for a moment, raise one finger, and say, “Wait, you know, we have one more thing.”
As you can see from that collection of “One More Thing” introductions, early in his return to Apple, Steve literally acts like he almost forgot to introduce a product that has likely been in the works for years, involving hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Understanding the reasoning for this well-orchestrated and completely manufactured moment gives you a glimpse into the identity of Apple.
It’s Not Secrecy
Every week for several years, I’d have lunch with Shane at the mothership. He and I went to college together and landed at different parts of Apple. I was in Mac OS X and he was… somewhere else. Every couple of lunches, I’d throw it out there, “So, what are you working on?” and I’d receive precisely the same response, “You know… stuff.”
Two years. Shane didn’t give me a single clue what he was working on. I finally figured out that that he was on the Numbers team, Apple’s spreadsheet, and I learned about it the same time as everyone else – at a keynote.
Secrecy at Apple is part of its DNA. Information is compartmentalized on a need to know basis, and jumping from one compartment to the next is a pain in the ass. Legitimate needs to understand the impact or direction of a product or technology are heavily scrutinized. Much of your life interacting with folks outside of your group involves a strange abstract language and bizarre body language protocol where you attempt to determine whether the person sitting across from you knows what you know:
Me: “So… do you know about… the thing?”
Them: <shrugs><furrowed eyebrow> “The big thing or the little thing?”
Me: <hopeful nod> “THE thing.”
Them: <slowly shaking head> “THE thing for WWDC or the after thing thing?”
Me: <pointing> “The AFTER thing thing.”
Them: <staring down at their plate> “I don’t know anything about that.”
Me: <also now staring down at my plate> “Me either.”
It’s frustrating and at times demoralizing, and it meant that there was a good chance, even as an Apple employee, that when a keynote rolled around you were going to be just as surprised by a majority of the announcements as the rest of the audience. But when Steve walked on stage, you forgot about the secrecy and you began to anticipate. The show started and you realized there was a good chance that your world was going to change in the next 90 minutes.
You realized: it’s not secrecy, it’s theatre.
Many companies are capable of this type of show, but what makes Apple different is the one-two punch of combining the surprise announcement with the equally surprising announcement – the product is done. In my opinion, these carefully scripted sequences of events amplify both the sense of exclusivity and urgency.
One More Thing
Imagine this: you’re sitting in your living room with some friends and for some bizarre reason you’ve never seen The Empire Strikes Back, so you’re fixing this nerd travesty by watching it. You press play, the movie starts, and one of your friends leans over and whispers in your ear, “Darth Vader is Luke’s father.”
What. The fuck.
When Steve walked on stage, he wanted to tell you a great story. The arc is now familiar: state of the business, preamble to the announcement of the product, actual product announcement, wrap-up of that announcement, repeat as necessary, wrap up the whole damned thing, and… then… sometimes… One More Thing. Hey, yeah, so, by the way, the MacBook Air no longer sucks. Or iTunes no longer has DRM. Or, you don’t know it yet, but the iPod Touch is a much bigger thing than you think.
The best stories, the ones we love, have a surprise ending. Since Steve returned to Apple, an essential part of the keynote was the anticipation of the unexpected, and that means aggressive and invasive secrecy. Not because they don’t want you to know, but because they want to tell you a great story.
It takes a showman to tell a great story. No one really believed Steve forgot to announce The Thing, but he made an amazing show of it.