Now that Apple has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, some bloggers find it hard to resist exploring the idea that all companies have a natural business cycle: birth, maybe a mini-death, revival, and final demise. It’s an intriguing proposition, especially for Apple fans who are especially touchy about the prospect. What’s a good approach to all this fuss?
This week, Forrester CEO George Colony raised a fuss when he ventured into the Theory of Social and Economic Organization by sociologist Max Weber. In this schema, Apple falls into type #3, the corporation run by a Charismatic individual. And what happens when that organization is faced with the matter of succession. His blog was titled, “Apple = Sony.” His conclusion: “Apple’s momentum will carry it for 24-48 months. But without the arrival of a new charismatic leader it will move from being a great company to being a good company, with a commensurate step down in revenue growth and product innovation.”
Let’s think about that for a minute. In my experience, there’s often much wisdom in the theses by experienced business leaders, sociologists, business analysts when comes to analyzing typical businesses. But is Apple quite so typical? It’s all too easy to point to Kodak, RIM, Blockbuster, and even IBM from what I’m hearing and conclude that Apple is in their mold. Your particular frame of mind, whether you’re an Apple fan or an Apple critic will likely decide whether you think the prior analysis of failure applies to Apple. What if it doesn’t? How do we go about proving that one way or the other?
And to just stop there and decide that because every business has a life and death life cycle that Apple is soon to be doomed, now that Steve Jobs no longer with us, is far too simplistic. Worse, it ruffles so many feathers that it’s hard to carry on a sensible discussion from there. It’s like politics. Once you announce you’re on one side of a contentious political issue, often based on armchair reasoning, the other side stops listening.
I propose that there are deeper questions to ask.
First, one has to be aware of who is asking these questions and what they have to gain.
Second, why are these issues being raised now when there’s no specific evidence that Apple cannot continue its success? Who can accurately quantify how long this run will be? So how does anyone know when it’s the right time to ask the question, other than to be self-serving? Or hope that, in their lifetime, they can say, “I told you so.”
Third, companies start to fail when technology leaves them behind or when a smarter, more nimble company can exploit their weaknesses and nibble away at them. Who is in a position to do that against Apple? Has Apple shown any evidence that they are invested in the past, can’t adapt, change and move forward briskly? I’ve seen none. In fact, a lot of Apple’s success is because it moves forward more quickly than the competition.
Fourth, some companies start to die when executives make too many mistakes, sense competitive failure, then roll too much money to the top to protect their golden parachutes and thereby starve their operations. Is Apple doing that? (I don’t think so.)
Fifth, are the business practices that Apple’s executive team put into place over the last 15 years somehow breaking down and failing to adequately confront the competition? All signes point to the opposite. Apple has out thought and out maneuvered companies led by men with feet of clay. Apple’s values and execution have been shown to be superior to their competitors, and customers have rewarded Apple for that. What forces can we point to that are breaking that model down? (I don’t see any.)
A Major Intellectual Challenge
It’s going to take a lot more than a simplistic idea that all companies have a life cycle and therefore must eventually waver and collapse. It’s going to require a serious, arduous, ingenious analysis to figure out when how Apple’s fortunes will turn. There must be indicators. Right now, there are none.
Nowadays, Apple is doing a better job than any other technology company, and it continues to grow. It’s premature to suggest the end is near because one can’t conceive of Apple getting any bigger. Or because one is invested in discrediting Apple’s values and success for whatever reason. In my experience, the most energetic naysayers are the ones with the most limited vision.
Let’s let Apple play out its own history and enjoy the success. (And keep a sharp eye on them as well.) When the time comes, we’ll see it. Apple will see it. No one knows when that will be. But then, perhaps the Childhood’s End won’t be a catastrophe. Perhaps it will be a stepping stone to something even better. Even that may be a long time coming. Not everything has to happen today, or even in 48 months, on the blogger’s own schedule of Internet rush to judgment.
So let’s drop the silliness and move on.
Tech News Debris
Sometimes, no one article can put a complete picture together. This week, I ran across several articles that, taken collectively, provide some insights into what’s going on with Android versus iOS and smartphones. 1) “First Android revenue numbers revealed: $278.1m in 2010, iPhone more lucrative.” 2)”Apple Q1 U.S. Smartphone Mkt Shr 59%, Vs. 36% Year Earlier.” 3) “Microsoft’s Mobile Comeback Is Looking Terrible.” The gist of these articles is that, despite the hype, Microsoft’s phone efforts are going nowhere and that Android isn’t succeeding against the iPhone as wildly as one may have surmised.
In the preamble, I alluded to what technology could eventually supplant Apple’s products. I’ve always thought that it would be personal robots, probably because of my science fiction readings for my whole life, especially those of Isaac Asimov.
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox
We have a long way to go when it comes to stepping into a positive, productive future with robots. I’ve even written some science fiction myself about that. When we look at how our privacy and security is perhaps undermined by a modern smartphone, it’s hard to conceive that our species is ready for commercial robots. Along the way, we have many tough issues to address, for example, “New Study Asks Who’s to Blame When Robots Harm Us”
Finally, remember all the fuss when Apple introduced iOS printing a year ago? Ryan Faas, an expert on Apple in the enterprise, takes a look a corporate printing from the iPad and finds it wanting. “Most Companies Are Ignoring The iPad Printing Problem.”