The Big Take-aways from Tim Cook's Interviews

Apple's CEO TIm Cook has appeared now in a TV interview with NBC's Brian Williams and also in a long, published interview with BloombergBusinessweek. Many of the things that Mr. Cook said in these interviewes bear directly on the recent discussions on the Web about Apple and its CEO. Here are some quotes from Tim Cook and my own observations.

I'm going to focus on the written interview here with Josh Tyrangiel of BloombergBusinessweek. Much of what Mr. Cook said there was repeated with Brian Williams, perhaps because the important concepts and specific language were already on his mind.

Here are some excerpts, in italics, and my own notes on the importance of some of the key quotes, the Big Take-aways.

My own personal philosophy on giving is best stated in a [John F.] Kennedy quote, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I have always believed this. Always. I think that Apple and Apple’s employees have done enormous good and can do even more. One of the things that we have done is match our employees’ charitable contributions, where they select who they want to give to.

This was an early initiative by Mr. Cook, and I think it was immediately appreciated by everyone. I think it reflects an interesting management style and the character of Mr. Cook. Mr. Jobs, in my experience, right after he returned to Apple, was obsessed with eliminating any project that didn't make money because he saw the squandering of Apple's assets under previous CEOs. And with so much to work on and think about, knowing that time was short, it's reasonable that he didn't dwell on something like this. A new CEO, however, thinking about the long term, someone with strong values, can enter new territory.

I get e-mails all day long, hundreds, thousands per day from customers who are talking like you and I are talking, almost like I’ve gone over to their home and I am having dinner with them. They care so deeply about Apple they want to suggest this or that or say, “Hey, I didn’t like this,” or, “I really love this,” or tell me that FaceTime has changed their lives. I received an e-mail just today where a customer was able to talk to their mother who lives thousands of miles away and is suffering from cancer, and they couldn’t see her any other way.

From my experience, someone is tasked to read all these e-mails, so it should not be taken as granted that Mr. Cook reads every one personally. What's important is that someone with a seriously good sense of values, balance and responsibility does read these emails and passes the most important ones on to the CEO. So if you need to communicate with the Apple CEO, write from the heart. Everyone else does.

When asked about the extent of Apple's product line, Mr Cook said, 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.

That might be taken as a response to the occasional suggestion that Apple acquire a cable TV company or a Hollywood studio in order to become more vertically integrated. It also bears on the almost ironclad supposition that Apple wants to change the TV viewing experience. The gist here is that Apple is all about making solid contributions in very specific areas where the company can make a difference. Becoming embroiled in large acquisitions would disrupt that. Apple is all about delivering a certain kind of experience, with integrated hardware and software, on a personal scale. It's not about being an entertainment giant. That focus is very obvious now in Mr. Cook's statements.

Eighty percent of our revenues are from products that didn’t exist 60 days ago. Is there any other company that would do that?

This is one of those quiet, blockbuster statements that says something, most everything, important about Apple's product design and its relentless movement into the future. It's also in interesting contrast to the conventional wisdom that Apple products, built so well, can be used for years and years by so many. But when you're the CEO and you see this remarkable accounting, there's no way to fool yourself. Apple must continue to innovate, advance the state-of-the-art, and drive forward.

For example, the Superdrive, FireWire 800, the 30-pin connector and USB 2 are history, relegated to the dustbin of technical history. We love Apple for that -- until we have to write that check and replace the hardware. But this is Apple's way, and we love them for it.

Asked about how the breakthroughs, and by implication innovation, Mr. Cook responded. "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.

That's almost a pure Dilbert moment, the instant corporate road to disaster. I can just see the Dilbert cartoon in which the pointy head manager sets up an innovation division and asks Wally to run it, in his spare time, of course. You can write your own Dilbert cartoon from there.

Much as been written about innovation, but very little insight is accompanied with it. Mr. Cook continued, Everybody in our company is responsible to be innovative, whether they’re doing operational work or product work or customer service work.

When you hire bright, imaginative people, good things happen. This is in severe contrast to a segment of business in America that believes employees are a financial drag and should be eliminated at every opportunity.

In the next section, we get some insight into the firing of Scott Forstall. After we hear how Mr. Cook thinks, the end result really could not have been any different.

So the changes -- it’s not a matter of going from no collaboration to collaboration. We have an enormous level of collaboration in Apple, but it’s a matter of taking it to another level.

And Craig [Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering] is unbelievable. We don’t subscribe to the vision that the OS for iPhones and iPads should be the same as Mac. As you know, iOS and Mac OS are built on the same base. And Craig has always managed the common elements. And so this is a logical extension. Customers want iOS and Mac OS X to work together seamlessly, not to be the same, but to work together seamlessly.

And there can’t be politics. I despise politics. There is no room for it in a company. My life is going to be way too short to deal with that. No bureaucracy. We want this fast-moving, agile company where there are no politics, no agendas.

And there you have it. That's why Mr. Forstall had to go. Turf building, politics, and lack of consideration for the other OS and other executives -- and the good of the company as a whole. It's a no-brainer once you hear Mr. Cook talk about it, even if obliquely.

In terms of the iPad mini pricing, Mr. Cook explained that too. A great product doesn’t mean an expensive product. It means a fair price. The iPad mini is all the way down to $329. This isn’t an expensive product. So when we can do great products and achieve a great price, we feel great. But what we wouldn’t do is say, “We’ve got to have something for this price, and then let’s see what we can do for it.” That’s not how we think. We think about the product and making a great product that we want to use. When we can do that and achieve another price point, that’s great. But our customers have a high expectation, and we’re not going to try to pass off something—we would never do that. That’s not how we think.

So much for the analysis of those who picked a price point where they felt Apple needed to be to compete.

When asked about the role of intuition in his job, Mr Cook said: It’s critical. It’s extremely critical. The most important things in life, whether they’re personal or professional, are decided on intuition. I think you can have a lot of information and data feeding that intuition. You can do a lot of analysis. You can do lots of things that are quantitative in nature. But at the end of it, the things that are most important are always gut calls. And I think that’s just not true for me, but for many, many people. I don’t think it’s unique.

This tells me that Mr. Cook is more than just a operations guy. Back when we were wondering about who would replace Steve Jobs, some speculated that the COO Cook was just an engineer, a numbers and operation kinda guy. Now we may know something we didn't know before. Why Steve Jobs hired Tim Cook in the first place and why he recommended Mr. Cook for the CEO position.

One of the myths about Steve Jobs was that he was so forceful in his personality that he always knew exactly what he wanted. Mr. Cook revealed how that concept is in error.

More so than any person I ever met in my life, he [Mr. Jobs] had the ability to change his mind, much more so than anyone I’ve ever met. He could be so sold on a certain direction and in a nanosecond (Cook snaps his fingers) have a completely different view. (Laughs.) I thought in the early days, “Wow, this is strange.” Then I realized how much of a gift it was. So many people, particularly, I think, CEOs and top executives, they get so planted in their old ideas, and they refuse or don’t have the courage to admit that they’re now wrong. Maybe the most under appreciated thing about Steve was that he had the courage to change his mind. And you know—it’s a talent. It’s a talent.

Again, that's the "aha" moment of genius and innovation. You have your working theories, and then, one day, you're confronted with new facts, facts that change all your prior notions. You instantly see the connection, the implications. And you turn on a dime. Scientists do this, and in that sense, Mr. Jobs was the ultimate scientist.

In this technological era, being a quick change artist is essential, and it may have been one of the best kept secrets of Mr. Jobs's and Apple's success. That Mr. Cook recognizes that tells us that Apple is in good hands.