Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Meeting and beating expectations

Tech geeks are in a tizzy this week, either at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas (singing Elvis heads! Flatter, bigger TV screens!) or at MacWorld in San Francisco.

Steve Jobs, Apple and the Mac crowd have redefined many things for us over the years - where music comes from, what a desktop is, who owns the Apple logo etc., etc.

Mostly, Mac fans have redefined consumer expectations of companies. Every year Mac users go nuts predicting Jobs' next big announcement - iPods, shuffles, iTunes, faster Macs, cooler laptops, iTV, and so on. For a long time now the call has been for a combo iPod/cell phone. After calling it for several years, today they got it - the iPhone. And - what is notable here - the reviews (written while Jobs was showing the thing off for the first time) are glowing.

So what for philanthropy? Well, other than all techno-geeks in philanthropy who will want an iPhone, the point of this post is about beating expectations. When was the last time a philanthropist did more than anyone expected? Especially when the expectation was really high to begin with - as with the iPhone. Apple knew what its users wanted - and they built it for them - better even than they might have hoped. What if foundations tried to act like this? Engage with their communities, find out what they really want, help those communities to get it, and more. What would meeting expectations look like? What would beating them require?

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