Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Marvels of Modern Management: Apple & the Lost Tablet Tribes

"Apple isn't likely to keep its 90% share of the booming tablet market..." 90%? That's unheard of in nearly any market! Can you imagine such a comment regarding a market as competitive as tablet computers? Yet, that's what Walt Mossberg, the technology columnist for the The Wall Street Journal observed just last week.

In fact, 400,000-600,000 iPad 2s sold in the first three days that they were available, according to The Wall Street Journal's estimates, and that's also amazing when you consider that the iPad 1 took a week to reach that number, and that most of last week's purchasers were first-time buyers of an iPad. By any account, this is an extraordinary accomplishment. In fact, an analyst from Piper Jeffrey & Co., quoted in the same article, admitted as much: "We didn't expect anything close to this." Apparently, neither did the other players in the pc industry!

That is what makes this a marvel of modern management: the absolute lead that Apple has achieved over well-known, highly thought-of, competitors who appear to be paralyzed. As one R&D Director in the industry said to me recently: "We saw tablets coming. We recognized their potential. We saw them as they passed us by, and, now, we are watching them move on; and all the while we find ourselves unable to take action!" Ok, some -- Samsung, in particular -- have moved to challenge Apple, but while most of the big competitors are still to announce their version 1; Apple is well-into version 2. Where are the others? How could this be happening? What are they waiting for?

How do you explain this? It has to be regarded as a Marvel of Modern Management!

My sense is that we live in a time of unprecedented complexity. Technologies,
globalization, emerging markets, etc. have resulted in everything being
"bigger," "faster," more "profound," more "risky." As a direct result, I think
that we can also argue that this is the most demanding leadership era, as well.
As we move forward into this uncharted managerial wilderness, it's not
surprising to catch glimpses, along the way, of extraordinary managerial
accomplishments or shocking confusion/delusion, that merit some attention and
reflection if we are to be more thoughtful about the craft of leadership. This
has prompted me to begin to explore a series of "sketches" regarding what I've
chosen to refer to as "Marvels of Modern Management." The term is a both an
expression of admiration, but it can also be a bit satirical, and comes from a
book that I had as a child which was entitled J.R. Crossland's Modern [1938!]
Marvels Encyclopedia, and which chronicled (according to some scheme I never did
understand) “marvels” of contemporary life. It also, of course, could be taken
to refer to “Captain Marvel,” who assumed “super-hero” form as the result of his
alter-persona Billy Batson's repeating the magic mantra: Shazam, which stood
for: the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the
power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury. Not a bad
combination of attributes to be desired in the 21st century CEO!

The image accompanying this post is a terra-cotta figure of an Etruscan actor from the 2nd century BC, said to be from Canino, Italy, and presently in the British museum. The character is holding a bag of money and I chose this image to represent the awarding of a prize for an impressive accomplishment.

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