Friday, January 18, 2013

Understanding the competitive mind

We must seek to be competitive not because the rest of the world says so. It can be a force for good. Its influence is derived from the ability to create tangible value – not the influence of rank and its privileges as in an oligopoly. Thus it is not restricted by national boundaries. It has the ability to make things that "make a significant contribution to the society at large." Thus it has universal appeal. Apple is far from perfection yet it has emerged as a model to many – not to compete with Apple but as my Eastern European friends seem to innately seek, to understand how such minds work. And no one can talk about Apple today better than Tim Cook.

The first thing to realize is that all the things that have made Apple (AAPL) so special are the same as they have always been. That doesn’t mean that Apple is the same. Apple has changed every day since I have been here. But the DNA of the company, the thing that makes our heart beat, is a maniacal focus on making the best products in the world. Not good products, or a lot of products, but the absolute best products in the world.” [Tim Cook's Freshman Year: The Apple CEO Speaks, Businessweek, 6th Dec 2012]

My own personal philosophy on giving is best stated in a [John F.] Kennedy quote, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” You could almost place every product that we [make] on this table. I mean, if you really look at it, we have four iPods. We have two main iPhones. We have two iPads, and we have a few Macs. That’s it. And we argue and debate like crazy about what we’re going to do, because we know that we can only do a few things great. That means not doing a bunch of things that would be really good and really fun . . . That’s a part of our base principle, that we will only do a few things. And we’ll only do things where we can make a significant contribution. I don’t mean financially. I mean some significant contribution to the society at large. You know, we want to really enrich people’s lives at the end of the day, not just make money. Making money might be a byproduct, but it’s not our North Star.”

Creativity is not a process . . . It’s people who care enough to keep thinking about something until they find the simplest way to do it. They keep thinking about something until they find the best way to do it. It’s caring enough to call the person who works over in this other area, because you think the two of you can do something fantastic that hasn’t been thought of before. It’s providing an environment where that feeds off each other and grows.”

So just to be clear, I wouldn’t call that a process. Creativity and innovation are something you can’t flowchart out. Some things you can, and we do, and we’re very disciplined in those areas. But creativity isn’t one of those. A lot of companies have innovation departments, and this is always a sign that something is wrong when you have a VP of innovation or something. You know, put a for-sale sign on the door . . . Everybody in our company is responsible to be innovative, whether they’re doing operational work or product work or customer service work. So in terms of the pressure, all of us put a great deal of pressure on ourselves. And yes, part of my job is to be a cheerleader, and getting people to stop for a moment and think about everything that’s been done.”

We want diversity of thought. We want diversity of style. We want people to be themselves. It’s this great thing about Apple. You don’t have to be somebody else. You don’t have to put on a face when you go to work and be something different. But the thing that ties us all is we’re brought together by values. We want to do the right thing. We want to be honest and straightforward. We admit when we’re wrong and have the courage to change.”

On what Steve Jobs told him: “I want to make this clear. I saw what happened when Walt Disney passed away. People looked around, and they kept asking what Walt would have done.” He goes, “The business was paralyzed, and people just sat around in meetings and talked about what Walt would have done.” He goes, “I never want you to ask what I would have done. Just do what’s right.” He was very clear.”

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