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04 2012

Jobs and Apple

Syndicated from: balance-AND-results

Now that Apple has survived Steve Jobs twice, it will be interesting to see what comes next. Insider Tom Cook looks like a good CEO choice for now especially since he’s filled in for Jobs a few times before taking the top role more permanently. He survived the later Jobs era, but that also means he’s been part of the culture that’s evolved, good or bad, or probably better to say ‘good and bad.’ Few company cultures can be characterized as entirely ‘good’ (I don’t only mean virtuous, though that should be one consideration). We’re never really sure exactly what ‘good’ is for an organization culture. Continued, sustainable top-level success undoubtedly requires continual balancing and some of that shows up in the discussions around Apple. Even the latest controversy is one example – in the words of the New York Times quoted by no less than the Hollywood Reporter, “The New York Times story highlighted what some former Apple executives called the "unresolved tension" between a desire to improve factory conditions and the pursuit of cheaper products delivered faster.” “Unresolved tension” can be another name for a challenge you’re attempting to balance, and so it seems here. Cook jumped into the fray, saying of course Apple cares about employees, while others admit they’ve known about labor abuses for some time. Such contradictions undoubtedly characterize the efforts of many companies to find better, cheaper ways to produce their products, but still safeguard staff. As long as it’s being worked on I’m sympathetic, but what about Apple’s own internal culture which hasn’t exactly generated consistently positive reviews and may or may not improve? I may get around to reading the newly published book “Inside Apple” by Adam Lashinsky, a respected senior financial editor, presently for Fortune, or I may just wait and see, but I think some of the answer is contained in the book’s subtitle: “How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works.” Secretive, Really? Those words telegraph a message. For good measure I read the Amazon review by master reviewer Loyd E. Eskildson. It’s typical of the tangled way we get information that free reviews like Eskildson’s form an enormously helpful resource today. The book’s official publication date was January 25 (yes, 2012), though it was likely available in preview earlier, and there were already 7 reviews by January 28 and another 18 within two more weeks. Eskildson has reviewed over 3000 items according to Amazon (?! not all books, but still ?!), positively appreciated by more than 30,000 of nearly 48,000 readers – about 60%. And here’s a quote from his comments, “Steve Jobs was a micro-manager, bully, made ‘impossible’ demands and took a non-excuses perspective, and made Apple a very secretive entity. Fortune magazine Lashinsky, however, manages to provide useful insights nonetheless. The secrecy about future products and its management methods was intended to make life more difficult for its competitors, avoid stealing thunder from existing products, milk additional free media coverage on product launch days, and avoid disappointments if the eventually released product failed to match the hype.” I even take the slight grammatical glitches without worry because writing 3000+ reviews can’t leave tons of time for proofing and the content is otherwise clear and concise. Wow – a goldmine for free on a book a few days old. That nails Apple’s culture for sure – remember the law suits, criminal charges, firings and threats over the lost prototype iPhones? Just one example of their operations. Secrecy is widely believed now-a-days to be antithetical to creative innovation. We’re told we have to break down silos, to share information across departments to stimulate ideas and there are plenty of examples pointing in that direction. Amazon’s de facto culture certainly follows that in allowing anyone and everyone to express more or less whatever opinions they wish about everyone else’s books and products, to our great benefit. Should we conclude that Amazon is right and Apple culturally wrong? Jobs held it together, forcing creativity out of a secretive culture, but can Tim Cook or anyone else? Only time will tell. What it demonstrates is that when assessing leadership there are few absolutes, few opportunities to make either a quick or definite decision about what’s best or worst other than judging purely by results. and the latter, as we know from Enron’s mighty reputation up to just one day before their scandal, can be a very temporary measure. Bookmark and share this post More »

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