Fustest With the Mostest

Apple has plenty to be pleased about in light of its $1 billion victory over Samsung in a landmark patent-infringement case. But what does having a firm grip on a bunch of smartphone bells and whistles mean in terms of the company’s entrepreneurial strategy?

For much, if not all, of its existence, Apple has pursued what Peter Drucker called being “Fustest With the Mostest” (a strategy we’ve discussed before), meaning that your product can be imitated but you’re always a step ahead of everyone else. Many of Apple’s competitors, by contrast, have relied primarily on what Drucker called “creative imitation” (an approach that we’ve also examined). In fact, the imitators have often tried to mirror products pioneered by Apple. Samsung was doing this quite successfully—at least until five days ago.

Being “Fustest with the Mostest” enjoys a lot of esteem in the popular imagination, Drucker noted. But it also presents its own challenges. Among them: There’s no margin for error.

Being ‘Fustest with the Mostest’ is very much like a moon shot,” Drucker wrote in Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “A deviation of a fraction of a minutes of the arc and the missile disappears into outer space.”

Image source: Flickr Commons

For this reason, this Fustest-with-the-Mostest entrepreneurial strategy—the one on which Apple arguably most depends—is ideally avoided. “In most cases alternative strategies are available and preferable,” Drucker warned, “not primarily because they carry less risk, but because for most innovation the opportunity is not great enough to justify the cost, the effort and the investment of resources required.”

“Everyone knows the old Swiss story of Wilhelm Tell the archer, whom the tyrant promised to pardon if he succeeded in shooting an apple off his son’s head on the first try,” Drucker added. “If he failed, he would either kill the child or be killed himself. This is exactly the situation of the entrepreneur in the ‘Fustest with Mostest’ strategy. There can be no ‘almost-success’ or ‘near-miss.’ There is only success or failure.”

So far, Apple has been amazingly successful, and its patent victory seems to provide a measure of protection. The question is, does the past necessarily portend the future?

What do you think: Should Apple continue to bank on a Fustest-with-the-Mostest strategy?