How Steve Jobs Reframed The Competition To Rally The Troops
Updated: Jun 19
Photo: Screenshots of Apple 1984 Super Bowl TV Commercial
I have been in companies that operated with an extremely competitive culture and mindset and worked alongside people who were hypercompetitive. In one instance, it became so competitive that a company was forced to cancel a fundraising event because employees had taken things too far the prior year.
One of the techniques I’ve discovered to redirect and channel hypercompetitive employees’ energy is to get them to work TOGETHER by reframing internal competition from competing AGAINST one another in the SAME COMPANY to competing AGAINST a DIFFERENT COMPANY.
I help these internal stakeholders reframe a corporate initiative (which often requires multiple internal stakeholders) from an “us vs. them” (because functions within the same company often compete against one another and EVERYONE loses) to an “us vs. another company.”
I reframe the challenge and help them see that it’s NOT ABOUT COMPETING against one another (because we’re on the SAME team, i.e., work for the same company), but rather that it’s about COLLABORATING to help the entire company WIN against the COMPETITION.
This is not a new/original idea and I certainly didn’t invent this concept. In fact, Steve Jobs did the same thing when he rallied his Apple employees to compete against IBM back in the early 1980’s.
The late Steve Jobs (co-founder and CEO of Apple) was a master at reframing competition. In a classic story and perhaps one of the most famous Super Bowl TV commercials of all time (Watkins, 2022) and arguably one of the best TV commercials ever made (Ad Age), the ad “featured a rebellious young woman outrunning the Orwellian thought police and throwing a sledgehammer into a screen showing a mind-controlling speech by Big Brother” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 162).
“The [TV] ad cast Macintosh as a warrior for the latter cause—a cool, rebellious, and heroic company that was the only thing standing in the way of the big evil corporation’s plan for world domination and total mind control” (Isaacson, 2011, p. 162).
Jobs had framed Apple’s fight against IBM (which was dominating the PC market at the time) as an epic battle pitting a lone crusader (Apple) against a large, evil Orwellian empire (IBM). He rallied demoralized Apple employees to work together as one company to help Apple and its Macintosh computers save humanity from mindless obedience and conformity (IBM/Big Brother).
At the October 1983 Apple sales conference in Hawaii, Jobs (introducing the about-to-be-released [on January 22, 1984] TV commercial) said:
“It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and-controlled future. They are increasingly and desperately turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control, Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”
According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson (2011, p. 161): “Jobs had always been able to draw energy by imagining himself as a rebel pitted against the forces of darkness. Now he was able to energize his troops with the same vision.”
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D. Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Apple 1984 Super Bowl Commercial Introducing Macintosh Computer. https://youtu.be/2zfqw8nhUwA
Diaz, A-C. (1984, January 22). Apple – 1984. https://adage.com/videos/apple-1984/1165
History. (2020, January 21). Apple’s iconic “1984” commercial airs during Super Bowl XVIII. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/apple-1984-commercial-airs-during-super-bowl-xviii
Isaacson, W. (2011). Steve Jobs. Simon & Schuster.
Johnson, S. (2017, February 2). What you didn’t know about Apple’s ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/tv/ct-apple-1984-ad-myths-ent-0205-20170201-column.html
Watkins, G. (2022, February 22). We’re in It for the Ads! These Are the 50 Best Super Bowl Commercials of All Time. https://parade.com/983861/gwynnewatkins/super-bowl-commercials/