Apple and Lessons of Leadership

I have been fascinated for many years with the culture of Apple Computer. I watched Apple as both an interested spectator out of my office window and as a provider of services. I watched the rise and fall and rise of the fortunes of Steve Jobs at Apple.

I have wondered what impact the death of Steve Jobs would be for Apple as a company and culture. Yesterday, Apple introduced their next version of the iPad. I scanned part of the introduction event to get a sense of the leadership and how they were engaging their previously rabid press fans.

Unlike any other company, Apple has enjoyed almost universal GREAT press. When Steve Jobs would appear on stage at one of these launch events, there was cheering and standing ovations, even from the most jaded reporters. There was an admiration of his intense focus and extraordinary storytelling.

This admiration was not without awareness of the whole personality of Steve. It was his pursuit of greatness, in such a public way,that drew loyal customers and company followers, from the press to investors.

Steve’s attention was on how each aspect of what he was selling could be the best there was. This meant that the greatness he focused on was not some simple feature or incremental differentiation; it was a leap in value that transcended conventional thinking.

He is touted with his focus on design. This is true, if you understand the full nature of design. Design is about the wholeness of the experience. Items like the features of the product are simply a subset of the design process. Steve knew that the introduction of new products was a part of this design process as well. He put as much attention on these 90-minute events as he did on the product.

The result has been a groundswell of consumer and commercial interest in what’s new at Apple. No other company, including Microsoft, has had such broad public attention with regard to new product introductions.

Yesterday was the first new product introduction without Steve Jobs’ hand in it. I could tell much of the course of Apple’s future by watching. The CEO is very competent in the areas of finance and operations. These are important aspects of design, but not the perspective from which Apple has led the field.

Phil Schiller, the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing, had a moment in his presentation yesterday when he was trying to get a Jobs’ like response from the audience about the new feature he was showing. He asked the question, “isn’t this great?” In the past, when Steve asked this question, he was always greeted with rousing applause and cheers. For Phil, the response was an embarrassed smattering of clapping.

What will this mean? This means that the significant competitive distinction of Apple is no longer there. Sure, for some time into the future, Apple will experience great financial results from the momentum of the past. They may provide innovative products that will be considered successful. It’s unlikely, though, that they will produce innovation at the level of the immediate past.

I write this note today from my interest in not letting the past be the guide of the present and future. Too often, we think the past will continue into the future. We forget that the only true indicator of what we can expect today is today. Only look at the facts of today and from seeing clearly what these facts mean to us, we can make the best decision – today.

Until later,


Author: Thomas White

Over the past thirty-five years, Thomas White has created and led private and public organizations that initiated breakthroughs in areas as diverse as computer software, publishing, printing, market research, leadership development and organizational change. The common ingredients in his success are simple. He looked beyond the limitations that others believed and found real solutions to needs that business leaders have. He attracted the best talent to translate these innovative solutions into practical products and services that were of high value to customers. He created cultures where people love what they do, work at their best and produce extraordinary results. In addition to his role as a business leader, Thomas has been a pioneer and inventor of technologies in the computer-networking field. He is a patent holder for innovations in business process and workflow technology. As part of his passion for educating others about the interface of human and computer systems, he was the co-author of “New Tools for New Times, The Workflow Paradigm”. He has also written articles for numerous publications. In 2001, he turned his attention from leading companies to supporting leadership teams in creating organizations of excellence. After many years of being a part of the machine of change, Thomas recognized that business is the most powerful force in the world. It has a major impact on public policy and governments everywhere. It is a key influence on how we use our resources and sets an example of the values that shape communities from local to global. He formed the consulting firm of Profoundly Simple to be a guide for exemplary leaders - leaders who wisely uses the power they are entrusted with to serve their constituencies first and themselves second; leaders who know that it is good business to treat people with respect, honor the environment and act with impeccable integrity – leaders who inspire greatness in those around them and by doing so create great organizations that are notable examples of success. Feeling the itch to get back into the game again, Thomas joined with two long time friends, to start the C-Suite Network. This network of business leaders offers an online network, events, services, and insights to its 500,000 member community. In addition, the C-Suite Network produces and distributes television and radio content to an audience of over 5M per month

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