Guy Kawasaki: The Art of Disruption

The former Apple evangelist under promised, over delivered, and ended the first conference day with a wide smile on his face.

”Nobody tweets as much as Guy Kawasaki”, says moderator Antoni Lacinai as he introduces Kawasaki. ”Create like a God, command like a king, work like a slave” – the adage aptly describes Kawasaki’s character – supplemented by his own motto: ”Don’t worry, be Crappy.” Sounds like the first day of Nordic Business Forum 2015 is about to end with a great presentation by this genial gentleman. And it surely did!

Apple stories as appetizers

Many of the speakers have encountered Steve Jobs one way or the other. One day Jobs came to talk to Kawasaki and asked about a company called ’Knowhere’. After Kawasaki made a fairly long and thorough analysis of how mediocre the company and its products were, how bad it  was doing and so on, Jobs introduced the gentleman next to him: ”Guy, I want you to meet CEO of Knowhere”. Kawasaki continues with a couple more stories, for example about a Macintosh guy holding a light bulb – and the universe revolving around him, as he changes it.

Top 10 format for disruptors

Kawasaki must be one of my all-time favorite speakers. ”If you suck, and go long, it’s like being stupid and arrogant at the same time,” he says. He introduces his top 10 format for innovation – saying that if somebody thinks he sucks, this way he knows how much longer he sucks. Ok, he does not, but amuses the audience constantly.

#1: Great disruption occurs in a company when people like to make meaning rather than money. He warns, without a doubt that the people who work for you for the money, will not stick with you through the down periods. He advises the audience to rather hire people to make meaning for your company. As examples, he uses Google, whose meaning is information, and eBay, whose meaning is e-commerce.

#2: Create a mantra. Why do you or your products exist? He talks about mission statements and uses an American fast food chain Wendy’s as an example. Their mission statement has ’leadership’, ’innovation’ and ’partnerships’. Although Kawasaki has eaten in Wendy’s probably more than dozens of times, he has not participated in those three mission statement items in question. He says that their mission statement should only be ’Healthy fast food’. I agree.

#3: Jump to the next curve. Disruption does not occur on the curve you occupy. It does not occur by doing better the things you have done, in the same way you always have. Kawasaki tells a story about the ice harvesting business. First, big chunks of ice were pulled out of a frozen lake. After 30 years ice was made in a factory and delivered to customers with a truck. Another 30 years go by and we got refrigerators. None of the companies jumped to the next curve. Guess what happened to them?

#4: Roll the dice. Take a chance. Do something others don’t. Like a sandal with a built-in bottle opener or a smart ignition key or a Ford Mustang Shelby GT sports car to prevent your kids from driving it too fast. Except that these have already been invented. Go for something new.

#5: Don’t worry, be crappy. ”It does not have to be perfect. In Silicon Valley, we ship and we test. If you are in biotech, don’t listen to this,” he says and continues his story about Apple 2 computer being a piece of crap. ”But it was a revolutionary piece of crap,” he says with enthusiasm and concludes, ”Don’t ship crap, ship revolution to your customers.”

#6: Let 100 flowers blossom. Kawasaki explains with a great example that you might have developed a great product, had great marketing, done everything right – until reality steps in. People use your product the way you did not plan. People whom you did not target. The audience gets to laugh at Kawasaki’s comment ”Oh my God, the wrong people are buying my product in large quantities,” especially when he tells about Avon. People started to buy their skin softener as an insect repellent for their children.

#7: Polarize people. Some people will love what you do, and some people will hate what you do. ”The worst case is people don’t care what you do,” says Kawasaki. Think about TiVo, a television program time shift device. The users get to skip commercials 364 days a year and make the companies hate the box – and make the users love it. It is not a question of pissing people off, but of polarizing them.

#8: Churn baby, churn. One of the hardest things for a disruptor is to ship a disruption and evolve the disruption. When you start a revolution, you also have to change it. You need to revise your product or service. Why? Because you shipped something that was not perfect. I am sure you can think of many examples of this, right?

#9: Niche thyself. This is all the marketing you ever need to know. Kawasaki shows us a 4-fielder, where uniqueness lies on the vertical axis and value on the horizontal. ”You want to be on the upper right hand corner,” he says and talks about all four corners of the chart. Bottom right makes you compete on price. If you are on the top left, ”you are just plain stupid.” You own a market that does not exist. Now, we don’t even need to talk about the bottom left. Be unique and valuable.

#10: Perfect your pitch. Pitching is an essential skill for all innovators, revolutionaries and disruptors. Start by customizing your intro. A great way to do that is to know everything about everybody in the room you are presenting. Kawasaki introduces a 10-20-30 rule, that we should remember. Maximum of 10 slides in 20 minutes, using 30 point font. From my experience, that must be hard for Finnish engineers.

Extra #11: Don’t let the dangerous bozos grind you down. In many cases, being rich and famous equals lucky. Kawasaki shows us examples of conventional wisdoms, for example that there is no market for more than 5 computers in the world or that there is no reason why anybody would want to have a computer in their home. If Jobs had listened to those statements, he might not have started Apple. Conclusion: don’t listen. Try, and you will know.

Kawasaki ends his awesome presentation with a story in which he chooses family over the two billion dollars he would have gotten from Yahoo if he had accepted the job they offered him. That choice ”explains one billion, it’s the other billion that pisses me off.”


Guy Kawasaki is the chief evangelist of Canva and an executive fellow at the Haas School of Business at U.C. Berkeley. Formerly, he was an advisor to the Motorola business unit of Google and chief evangelist of Apple. He’s also the author of 12 books.

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