Apple's Hit-Making Formula

The company, fresh off a strong quarter, is one of several great innovators that follow four key talent steps.

Apple reported its quarterly results this week and, to the surprise of no one, it sold tens of millions of phones and computers while earning several billion dollars in profits. Much of Apple’s success over the past two decades has come down to its ability to introduce game changing products, including potentially its newest, soon-to-be released iPhone 8.

But the company doesn’t have this hit-making ability because of some secret formula, a monopoly on microchips or extra support from the government. Experts say it is all about employing innovative workers who tend to display several key traits.

Indeed, in search of these traits, Korn Ferry surveyed about 3,000 mid- to senior-level leaders across a variety of industries. It found that most of them share four common behaviors:


It seems obvious, but innovative leaders come up with novel ideas. Innovative people also tend to be more strongly driven by a challenge than their peers are. But it goes beyond that ability; innovative leaders are intellectually curious and have a tremendous amount of mental agility, the ability to adapt and thrive in uncertain environments.


Innovative leaders tend to communicate effectively with one another, their bosses and their subordinates. They display a lot of emotional intelligence, particularly empathy. Collaboration also is a way to develop a culture of innovation, so an organization can keep churning out hits even if employees leave.


Many people may be creative, but to share those novel ideas with others requires courage, risk taking and self-confidence. Courageous people are not afraid of failure and, even if they do not succeed, they learn from the experience. Courageous senior leaders are ones who press forward boldly and influence others and can build support for new ideas.


Innovative workers are engaged and driven to achieve results. They don’t just think up ideas; they also take a risk by sharing them with others. They then work with teammates to refine them and finally execute them. Most often people are driven by something within them but companies can do things to motivate them.

Apple hasn’t cornered the market on delivering category-changing hits, of course. In tech alone they’re joined by firms such as Facebook and Netflix, while elsewhere Ant Financial expands financial possibilities for millions of rural Chinese with every new product it produces and Chobani never seems to miss with new yogurt it introduces. While firms can go out and try to hire all innovative employees, experts say organizations can also try to foster innovation internally, such as giving projects to teams rather than to individuals, or encouraging employees to send time imagining new ideas and sharing them with their colleagues.