Thursday, July 29, 2010

Steve Jobs & Apple

On July 28, 2010, I was invited to participate in a Financial Times "Judgement Call" discussion on whether or not Steve Jobs was sufficiently apologetic over the recent problems of the new iPhone version 4. What follows below is the much-longer original sense of my thoughts on this:

Let’s face it, when you talk about Apple, you can never avoid talking about Steve Jobs. To do so would be to underestimate his importance to the attitude of the company, and ultimately the brand. This is not to say that he is “indispensable,” but, rather that he personifies the company’s tone for ambitiousness and “edginess.” He proved it again in his July 16th response to the iPhone problems.

Far from exhibiting arrogance or “a bunker mentality,” what Jobs’ July 16th response was was a strong statement of reaffirmation about what Apple is -- an engineering company that has repeatedly changed our world for the better -- and all that it has achieved. While he acknowledged the problems at hand, and promised to fix them, he also reminded us that his responsibility as CEO is about moving the company into the future, rather than dwelling on solvable problems of the past. What more do you want than that in a leader? To criticise him for anything else is naive and misplaced.

From the outside, it’s easy to pass judgement and get worked up over a technical glitch; particularly if we’re closely watching the successful guys in the hopes of catching them failing. But, let’s be sober: this is not BP – threatening large numbers of people, damaging ecosystems, and polluting fragile international waters -- this is about a cell phone not being as dependable as was originally promised. There’s a big difference with respect to how corporate leadership should respond.

Jobs knows this. And so do Apple loyalists. His message didn’t let them down. On the contrary, it was a strong statement reassuring us that Apple is committed to continuing to producing great products in the future. Whether it was sufficiently “heartfelt” or not isn’t worth debating. Jobs showed self-assurance and pride and it’s these two qualities that resonate with loyal Apple users and that have catapulted Apple to repeated success. This was as much a message of reassurance to the Apple “tribe” as to anyone else: “we will not be losing our focus in the face of this rather insignificant problem.”

The problem at hand, after all, is temporary. It has been blown into great debate simply because there are a lot of people and organizations that are envious of Apple’s success: “If you can’t out-innovate them; try besmirching them!”

In a nutshell, Jobs’ message was simple: Apple is aware of the problem, we will fix it, and we are moving on. The more significant message to his competitors was left unsaid: catch us if you can!

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