Is Tim Cook a Product Visionary? Does He Need to Be?

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs

A recent video of Steve Jobs talking about corporate leadership and product vision has reawakened a debate about Apple CEO Tim Cook.

Steve Jobs with Steepled Fingers
Steve Jobs (1955-2011)

Here’s the video.

A caption for the video at Digg has the title: “Steve Jobs Eerily Warned Against What Apple Seems To Be Doing Now.”

This one sentence is a perfect example of a defective thought process and click-bait journalism. Namely, take a preconceived notion, marry it with a video of a stellar personality, and draw a (false) conclusion, wrapped in the authority of the video’s personality.

That was enough to have several people, readers and friends, send it to me for analysis and discussion.

Innuendo Journalism

There are several facts that undermine the thesis presented..

  1. Tim Cook was hand picked by Steve Jobs to assume the leadership of Apple.
  2. Apple was a very different company under Steve Jobs. The company has transitioned from a one-trick-pony, “One more thing” product company to a vast corporation able to take on much grander challenges.
  3. Accordingly, Apple needs an experienced orchestra leader today. Not a lead vocalist. Plus, Mr. Cook has grown in maturity as a CEO in the last six years.

Another trick used to criticize Tim Cook is to say that because he came through the ranks as a leader of the sales teams and as COO that he fails as a singular product visionary—the apparent point of the Steve Jobs video linked above. Q.E.D.

I declare this to be all nonsense.

A company of Apple’s size needs an orchestra leader capable of properly managing the multitude of product visionaries within. Without that, Apple would degerate into a collection of fiefdoms run by lords of their own self-serving kingdoms. That’s the state Apple was in when Steve Jobs came back, and he fixed that problem immediately.

The suggestion is that because Tim Cook isn’t the sole originator of outrageously good tech products and rams them down the company’s throat he’s not suited to be the CEO. This kind of thinking is a fanciful, outdated, authoritatian notion for a much smaller company.

Orchestra Leader

Today, Tim Cook’s job is to be an orchestra conductor. He makes sure that everyone is on the same page and the instruments are superbly tuned. He’s not always succeeded perfectly, the 2014-2017 Mac lapse comes to mind, but he can hardly be compared, as Mr. Jobs suggested, to a corporate sales weenie to rises through the ranks only to guide his ship into a rudderless, maniacal obsession with money while great products languish. Or never get created.

The Tim Cook we know is passionate about quality, inspiring and secure products. He’s devoted to the vision of Steve Jobs but not so inwardly obsessed with his own agenda that he forgets how to lead a large, beloved, capable corporation.

Watch the Jobs video again. Great products sell themselves. Apple doesn’t fool itself into the idea that heavy handed sales techniques dupe the customer. Tim Cook’s heart-felt orchestration of the products brought to market is exactly what Mr. Jobs would demand of his successor years later.

Next Page: The News Debris For The Week Of September 25th. Hey, let’s sell a new camera always pointed at the customer’s bed.

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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

John: Just a quick thought on TC and Vision. The three points you raise opposing the opinion proffered by Digg are well-reasoned and justified, as is the argument that what Apple need, a company different today than it was during SJ’s second tenure, is an orchestra conductor who, like today’s best conductors, have studied the maestro’s work, thoughts and ideas, and lend their best interpretation at delivering that vision. Some conductors are known as specialists in a given composer’s art, and as the go-to conductor for, example, Igor Stravinsky, or even a specific composition, like Handel’s Messiah. Without doubt, not… Read more »

Lee Dronick

Slightly of Particle Debris comment, but it is in regards to John’s post about the red light mode in the Apple Watch:

Unfortunately, the flashlight doesn’t remember the last setting. If you’ve been using the red light mode to stay dark adapted, leave the flashlight mode for other data, and then come back, you’ll start off with the white light again. It might ruin your dark adaption. Pilots and astronomers won’t like this, and I haven’t found a fix.

A workaround for now could be to create a custom watch face that is just a red image.


Oops, the him I was referring to is Jony Ives.


I think he’s a nice guy, too, though I think he and Steve together had something they don’t separately. again, no faulting the man’s talent, but it just isn’t what it was. C’est la vie, I guess.


Tim Cook seems to be a nice guy and that makes me think of Leo Durocher. He definitely can manage money. But he doesn’t strike me as a strong leader or a visionary. The Apple Watch wasn’t an Apple innovation, it was an Apple customer innovation when consumers took the 6th Gen iPod Nano and put it on a watchband. And it was quickly discontinued (to make way for the “Hey maybe they’re on to something?” watch). Outside of that, the iPhone is being milked for all it’s worth, along with the iMac and laptops. Nothing visionary seems to be… Read more »


‘I think Apple is in jeopardy of becoming another Panasonic if they’re not careful.’ I do, too, or a Sony or a fill-in-the-blank. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with that, I suppose, they still make very nice products, but it’s a departure, nonetheless . It’s true that Tim doesn’t need to be a visionary, but it’d be nice if someone at Apple was. They have some very good, very talented people, but for me the days of jaw-hitting-floor are pretty much done, methinks. It isn’t necessarily their fault, either, as I suppose that it may have something to do with… Read more »


“but for me the days of jaw-hitting-floor are pretty much done, methinks. . . . I don’t know if there’s much technology will be capable of within my lifetime that hasn’t already been explored to some extent within my lifetime” I feel fortunate that I was around to witness the incredible advances in computer technology. The last technological transition that was as vast and widespread was the introduction of the automobile in the early 20th century. But yes, the trend in personal computing has probably reached a plateau, at least in form factor. Devices cannot get any smaller, ergonomics constrains… Read more »


Just to qualify. I think implanted devices is the most likely next revolution but ‘most likely’ is not the same as ‘likely’. Ironically, ‘most likely’ is a less confident assertion than ‘likely’.


Amazon Spot. I have a little rubberized magnet over the camera on my iMac. I ONLY remove it for Skype Calls. And my computer points at a wall, not my bedroom. Put a device in my bedroom with a camera on all the time? Does the term **** NO, ring a bell? Actually as you alluded, I can’t wait until these get hacked and the internet is flooded with stolen videos of people en flagrante. The lawsuits against Amazon will be massive and entertaining. TC: You make some good points, but you make a very good point. The musical comparison… Read more »


EDIT: TC: I’ve been critical of him, but you make a very good point.

(I SO wish we could edit our comments.)

Lee Dronick

Put a device in my bedroom with a camera on all the time?

I have a security camera in our bedroom. Most of the time it is blocked by a wooden screen. If we go out of town, or just out of the house for the day, then I unmask it.