In part 1, we discussed how consistently balancing core operating values and stated policies and practices maintains a company upright relative to social credibility and market viability. Now, let us examine how that serves two essential longterm survival traits, adaptability and the ability to seize opportunity. 

Regarding adaptability, the goal is survival. For a company in a market, this means compliance with the law of the land (the savannah), laws that are set by the sovereign power. This means that civil liberties are determined by that government, not by Apple. Whether a company agrees or disagrees with the law, compliance is compulsory at pain of penalty, meaning that Apple must tailor its products and services accordingly. Nor is this confined to Apple; all companies providing similar services must do the same – a point under-represented in the NYT article. 

However, until the community of nation states bring China around to global standards of practice, companies can choose a third path between entering or avoiding the Chinese market, namely provide a China-specific variant of their products and services. Regarding civil liberties, Apple argue that they have to comply with Chinese law. In their justification, as the NYT article states, 

“Apple added that it removed apps only to comply with Chinese laws. “These decisions are not always easy, and we may not agree with the laws that shape them,” the company said. “But our priority remains creating the best user experience without violating the rules we are obligated to follow.”” 

Ultimately, Apple’s policy here is consistent with its global standards and practices. We have seen Apple comply, where technically feasible, with demands from law enforcement and even demands from legislators, with actions that impinge upon consumer privacy, but were consistent with local law. Where Apple has disagreed, or where compliance would render an entire platform for users everywhere insecure, such as an encryption ‘backdoor’, they have resisted. In settings governed by the rule of law, Apple has appealed specific demands in court. Were Apple taking these privacy-impinging measures proactively, or applying them inconsistently from nation to nation, such as obeying the laws of some nations whilst flagrantly violating them in others, then Apple could and should be called to account. 

Regarding privacy in China, however, Apple has argued that, although they have moved the data on Chinese citizens to Chinese servers, as required by Chinese law, those servers are walled off from those controlled by Apple for non-Chinese users beyond China, and even in China, Apple retain the encryption keys. In short, not only have Apple shown consistency in obeying the law of the land, they have taken ‘a third way’, and provided a China-specific solution that does not affect the world outside of China. Adaptability. 

One can quibble with the policy of compliance with local law; one can quibble about its inconsistent application. One cannot quibble that the consistent application of a policy is a betrayal of public expectation. NB: The notion of whether or not a law is ethical is another matter and outside of the scope of our discussion, and is yet another reason why all corporations should have an independent ethical review board to advise on such matters. 

What of seizing opportunity? This involves a combination of having the insight to spot the opportunity, and the fitness to seize it. Ecological, geopolitical, industrial and market ecosystems share a common dynamic; equilibrium is inconstant. The drive for survival, competition, is a destabilizing force that pushes equilibrium to ever higher plateaus of achievement, but at its best, is momentary.

China is not at equilibrium. Despite generations under communist single party authoritarian rule, the communist economy of public ownership and communal control yielded, under former party-leader Deng, to a somewhat market economy, not because Deng wanted it, but China’s economy was failing and a market system was an escape valve; he had to do it. The ascent of the individual has not stopped there. An insurgency towards greater individual freedom is now playing out on social media, in universities, amongst China’s rising middle and upper classes, and even amongst a younger generation in the Communist Party itself. The outcry and open criticism of the government’s handling of COVID-19 in Wuhan on Chinese social media was unprecedented, and will likely not be a one-off. It is no longer a question of if, but when will Communist Party rule end, and what concessions it will continue to make in the interim in order to prolong its survival, and ultimately with what will it be replaced. No one knows, but one thing is certain. That change creates opportunity. And for corporations seeking an opportunity to enable greater civil liberties, ask yourself, which company is better poised to do so; a company with a modest portfolio and/or with no ties to the nation’s market, and only nominal if any demonstrated affiliation or solidarity with the people, or one of the most valuable global companies on the planet with deep ties not only to the national economy, but to the culture and people, who feel a sense of ownership in that company? In other words, which company would be the most fit to seize that opportunity? Answer: few international companies better than Apple, if any.  

A company can and should be held to account for its adherence to both stated policy and core values, and the consistency with which it applies both. Consistency is essential to maintain credibility, if not also market viability. In the end, it is not about the consistency of offerings and content across Apple’s ecosystem of products and services, but the consistency of the application of its stated policies across the board, irrespective of local adaptation, and the extent to which that application aligns with the true north of Apple’s core values. 

Survival is the long game, requiring both adaptability and seizing of opportunity when it presents itself. Adaptation necessitates sacrifice, not just of the non-essential, but often-times things that are valued. That sacrifice is the price of survival, not simply for survival’s sake, but to help create opportunity and then seize it to change the power dynamics in favor of one’s core values and the freest expression one’s policies across the board. 

By consistent adherence to those core values and policies, that has become Apple’s stratagem, and Apple’s gambit.

There is one more thing. 

Historical context. 

It is impossible to predict precisely where consistent adherence to one’s core values will position one in a shifting sociopolitical or economic landscape. However, organizations and people that center an expansion of civil liberties and human rights at the core of their values have seldom landed on the wrong side of history. Organizations and people that have sought to restrict those same rights to a limited few, or constrict those rights amongst the population in toto most often have found themselves on the wrong side of history. 

Apple, and others, would do well to ensconce those values as their perpetual True North; the opposition of governments, the policies and practices of industry, and the inconsistencies of public opinion of the day be damned. 

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Unlike the New York Times hit piece, this was a fair and balanced bit of writing.