First Principles Thinking: The Secret Sauce Behind Apple’s CX Success

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Find the heart

First principles thinking is an ideation method that entails stripping a problem down to its foundation, its heart. The aim is then to challenge every assumption, and reconstruct a solution from scratch in order to improve the overall experience. In some ways, it’s like reverse engineering, but with an added layer of skepticism towards the old product and its conventional wisdom and biases.

A classic example of Steve Jobs using first principles thinking is when he visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and was introduced to a computer with a graphical user interface and a mouse. Instead of accepting the design as it was, he questioned every aspect of it and tried to find ways to improve the whole. Above all, he wanted to make the design more intuitive and simpler, resulting in a more user-friendly experience. This led to the conception of a virtual desktop where users could drag and drop documents and folders. Taking the concept of finding the essence even further, Jobs also challenged Xerox PARC’s three-button mouse that cost $300 and requested that it should not only be made simpler but also more affordable. The result was a single-button mouse that cost $15 and would become the standard for the industry.

How to conquer a red ocean market

The exact same thing happened with the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the Mac and – very recently – the Apple Vision Pro. Apple invented none of these things. The MP3 player, smartphones, tablets, computers, mixed reality (MR) glasses: these products already existed in the market before they introduced them. But what they did was reinvent and redefine them, making them better in every possible way. They improved user experience, navigability, weight, packaging, and distribution channels. They focused on the details, enhancing the design, reducing the size, and making these products more convenient to carry everywhere.

Apple’s first principles approach is a testament to their mantra: ” Start with the customer experience and work backwards.” Competitor iterations of smartphones, tablets, MP3 players, MR glasses etc. tended to start with the product, but Jobs (and Tim Cook after him) always made sure they started from the CX and then worked their way backwards from that, stripping away all the assumptions, and all the superfluous details. That’s how Jobs’ brilliance and relentless pursuit of perfection led to the reinvention of several seminal products that were already on the market.

First Principles Thinking is not just a problem-solving method. It’s a mindset, a culture that encourages constant questioning, innovation, and a relentless pursuit of perfection. And Apple has become a shining example of this. Their approach shows us that even in a saturated red ocean market, there is always room for improvement and innovation. It’s a lesson for all of us – whether we’re running a tech giant or just trying to solve a simple problem in our daily lives.

Of course, it’s too soon to tell if Apple’s Apple Vision Pro will do for AR/VR what the iPhone did for mobile, but it’s already fascinating to see how they are changing the existing experience with for instance device control via the eyes, hands, and voice