Explaining Away Apple’s Success

on June 7, 2015

On May 31, 2015, John Naughton, penned a story for The Guardian, entitled: If Steve Jobs’s death didn’t ruin Apple, the iCar surely will. I don’t know Mr. Naughton well, but after reading this article, I don’t want to know him well.

The Cult Of Apple

When Steve Jobs was alive it was tempting to draw analogies between Apple and a religious cult.

No. It wasn’t. At least it wasn’t for those of us who who want to understand Apple, rather than to assign Apple’s success to some unknowable mystical agency. Apparently, the occult is the only way that some critics can explain away Apple’s success.

What the mind doesn’t understand, it worships or fears. ~ Alice Walker

Saying that Apple — one of the most successful companies in the world — is like a cult is cognitive dissonance at its worst. The formula goes like this:

— I think Apple’s products are stupid.
— People are buying Apple’s products.
— I’m not stupid so…
— People who are buying Apple’s products must be stupid!

“‘Fashion, bauble, cult, marketing, toy’= ‘I do not understand what this product tries to achieve'” ~ Benedict Evans on Twitter

The moment we label that which we don’t comprehend as “irrational”, is the moment when we end the learning process. Here’s a clue for us all: Just because we don’t understand something does not mean that it can’t be understood. When others are doing something that we don’t understand, we should be striving to lessen our ignorance, not striving mock their ignorance.

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. ~ John Cotton Dana

No man really becomes a fool until he stops asking questions. ~ Charles Steinmetz

Why do people like Apple’s products? Is it because Apple is a Cult? Or is the answer much simpler and much easier to comprehend?

My philosophy is that everything starts with a great product. ~ Steve Jobs

(Jony Ive) craved products that didn’t force adjustments of behavior, that gave what Powell Jobs called a “feeling of gratitude that someone else actually thought this through in a way that makes your life easier. ~ Jonathan Ive and the Future of Apple – The New Yorker

The author of this article could do with a close shave from Occam’s razor. People aren’t buying from Apple because Apple has created a cult. People are buying what Apple’s culture has created.

You Say That Like It’s A Bad Thing

Product launches in the Moscone centre in San Francisco seemed more like evangelist congregations than capitalist rituals. And in the days before the revered new products actually appeared in the cult’s retail outlets, excited worshippers could be seen camping out in surrounding streets.

The Author says that like it’s a bad thing.

The last time I looked at my marketing books, having “evangelist” customers who “revered” one’s products and were so “excited” about the release or those products that they literally camped outside of one’s stores in order to buy those products — was a good thing. In fact, saying it’s a good thing is damning with faint praise. It’s a great thing!

There isn’t a company in the world that wouldn’t sell their metaphorical soul to have customers as enthusiastic, as devoted, and as loyal as those that Apple has. If Apple is a Cult, isn’t that an admirable quality and shouldn’t your company, and every other company, be doing everything in its power to become a cult too?


But, of course, Apple is not a cult. Apple has had failures — which disproves the lazy and tedious claim that Apple’s customers are undiscriminating. When and if the quality of Apple’s products starts to disappear, watch how quickly their “cult-like” followers start to disappear too.

So if Apple is not a Cult — and it’s not — and if Apple attracts customers like no other, then maybe reasonable companies should be asking themselves smarter questions. Questions like:

— What is Apple doing that we are not?
— And why aren’t we doing that too?

The Customer Is King

I remember once being in a British shopping arcade on the day that the local Apple Store opened for the first time. Long queues had formed from the moment the arcade gates had been unlocked that morning. Then came the magic moment: the glass doors opened, a hush fell on the assembled crowd, a group of T-shirted staff walked out, formed a human avenue leading into the store and then clapped rhythmically as the mob surged in.

It was a truly extraordinary moment in which the conventional marketing mantra about the customer being king was turned on its head. In the case of Apple, it seemed, the customers felt privileged to be allowed to enter the store.

(Emphasis added.)

How could the author of this article be more wrong? Let’s review:

— World class retail store;
— Filled with premium products; and
— greeted by a corridor of Apple employees, clapping enthusiastically as one enters the store.

That’s the author’s idea of “the customer being king…turned on its head”? What more does Apple have to do in order to demonstrate that they DO treat their customers like kings — literally put a Tiara on every customer’s head as they enter the store?

The Cult Of Personality

…I concluded that much of this Apple worship could be put down to the astonishingly charismatic personality of Jobs. He was, after all, the only chief executive in the history of the world to be accorded the kind of adulation normally granted to rock stars and messiahs. Apple was obviously a one-man band and he was the Man. It seemed reasonable to conclude when he died, therefore, that the cult of Apple would diminish or at any rate that its share price would have peaked.

How wrong can you be?

Pretty damn wrong, I’d say.

The author has — as so many have before him — reversed cause and effect. People didn’t buy Apple products because they revered Steve Jobs. They revered Steve Jobs became he created products that people wanted to buy. Similarly, people don’t buy Apple products because they like Apple. They buy Apple products because Apple makes products they like.

Dumb And Dumber

Jobs has been succeeded by Tim Cook, a nice man for whom the phrase “charisma deficit” might have been invented. But the cult of Apple is still going strong….

The author admits he was wrong about the cult of Steve Jobs personality, but far be it from him to learn from his mistake. Oh no, he’s doubling down instead. Apple is a cult. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

At this point in Apple’s success story, one has to work awfully hard to still believe that Apple is being powered by cult-like loyalty from an ever larger and larger base of unthinking and uncritical fanboys. One might even say that with their unwavering belief in the unbelievable, it is the critics, not Apple, that are acting like they are part of a cult.

A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep. ~ Saul Bellow

Reality Distortion Field

When Jobs was in his pomp, we used to say that he was surrounded by a “reality distortion field” that made it impossible to have an objective view of him.

Did you now? And what exactly was our “distorted” view of Steve Jobs?

— That he created some of the best loved products on the planet?
— The he created one of the greatest companies of our generation?
— That he engineered one of the greatest business comebacks of this generation — or any generation?

Not much reality distortion going on there. All pretty objectively true.

Apparently Steve Jobs had a lifelong battle with reality, and won ~ Scott Adams

The iCar

All kinds of portents – from straws in the wind to chicken entrails and recent corporate hirings – are leading people to conclude that Apple must be working on a car.

Yeah, I’m guessing it’s mostly that last thing — the recent corporate hirings — and not so much the mystical nonsense that you pulled our of your derrière, that has the industry all abuzz.

Why this obsession with cars?

The…possible motivation is at least rational, based on a strategic view that the information technology industry will eventually peak and that it makes sense to have a beach-head in industries such as healthcare and transportation, for which there will always be stable consumer demand.

Say what?

The information technology will eventually peak? Really?

Or, has the author, once again, gotten it all backasswards? Information technology isn’t peaking. On the contrary, software is leaking into every aspect of our lives, including — unsurprisingly — cars.

As Jony Ive’s friend and colleague, Marc Newson, puts it:

There is certainly vast opportunity (for cars) to be more intelligent.

I would add that there is certainly vast opportunity for many of Apple’s critics to be more intelligent, too.

Driving Us Mad

(M)aybe it’s time to consider whether those Apple shares of yours might be approaching their peak. As the ancient Greeks knew, those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

Well, the author of this article is no Greek god, but he’s sure as Hades made me mad. I think he has a lot of gall giving investment advice. Why should we trust the advice of a man who predicts Apple’s fall when it’s pretty darn obvious that he hasn’t a clue as to what caused Apple’s rise?


For almost forty years Apple has proven they can have success doing things in their own unique way. And for most all of those same forty years, critics have derided Apple as a cult. Apple is one of the great success stories of our times. Pretending that Apple’s success is irrational is not only irrational, it does us all a great disservice.

Not to know is bad not to wish to know is worse. ~ African Proverb

We shouldn’t be trying to explain away Apple’s success. We should be trying to explain it.

The Macalopes’s Take

For another take on this article, check out: “Assumption junction: Calling Apple a religion has no function” by the Macalope.