How much genius is enough

What was the cleverest thing about the original iPod?

Was it the technology? It was certainly smart. Until the iPod, portable personal music players came in the form of the Sony Discman. Before that, it was the Walkman. The iPod was much lighter than either. It could hold a lot more songs than a Discman’s CD or Walkman’s cassette.

Was the genius of the iPod in the physical design? It was simple, minimalist, intuitive. Play, pause, stop, back, forwards. All the key functions were performed by the central cluster of buttons.

Maybe the real genius was the software. For the first time we could arrange and rearrange our music into playlists. We could search our library of songs by artist or by song title. We could jump between playlists with a couple of pushes of a button.

What about the iTunes music distribution system? Until the iPod and iTunes, the big music companies controlled how their music was sold. Was the real genius in Apple’s audacity to challenge the traditional and accepted music industry distribution model?

Or was the genius in making the iPod white? Until the iPod, the favourite colours for electronics were black, grey and silver. People listening to a Discman listened through black headphones connected by black cables.

In its way, colouring the original iPod white might have been the cleverest innovation of all.

Compared with Discmans and Walkmans, iPods were small. Small enough to fit in a pocket. Small enough to be invisible. Most of the time, the only thing visible was the cable.

An interesting thing happened. Early adopters of the iPod recognised other early adopters on the street – simply by the white cable and earpieces they wore. Passing strangers would nod to each other, in recognition of their mutual cleverness in buying an iPod.

Now, imagine that you wake up one morning with a brilliant idea, something as breakthrough as the iPod. What happens next? Most of us would stop right there. We’d stop with our one idea, ecstatic at our genius.

Apple could have done that. They could have stopped with the idea of a portable hard drive music system. They could have simply let users add music by copying it from their CDs. They could have coloured it black like all other players. They could have been happy with their technological innovation.

They didn’t. The iPod incorporates five major innovations. Each is a piece of genius. Together they started a revolution.

Next time you have a big idea, one that could even be called genius, keep going. You could create the next iPod.

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