Part 6: Why Does Apple Do What It Does?


This is part 6 of 7 in a series of articles that explores Innovation at Apple.

1. Who is Apple innovating for?
2. Where should Apple’s innovation be focused?
3. How does Apple innovate?
4. When should Apple introduce its innovations?
5. What does innovation inside of Apple look like to someone outside of Apple?
6. Why does Apple do what it does?
7. Why not be Apple?


Why Does Apple Do What It Does?


To be a great company, it is not enough for one to have the know-how. One must must also have the “know-why”.

You’ve got to have an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right that you’re passionate about, otherwise you’re not going to have the perseverance to stick it through. ~ Steve Jobs

Somebody once told me, “Manage the top line, and the bottom line will follow.” What’s the top line? It’s things like, why are we doing this in the first place? What’s our strategy? What are customers saying? How responsive are we? Do we have the best products and the best people? Those are the kind of questions you have to focus on. ~ Steve Jobs

Why is the “why” so important? Why does it matter so very much? I think Friedrich Nietzsche said it best:

He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any ‘how.’

Without the why, life is filled with obstacles. With the why, those self-same obstacles become the stepping stones to success.

Before we ask Apple to change what they are doing, let’s first ask ourselves why Apple does what it does.


Let’s start with what Apple’s “why” is not.

It may seem counterintuitive, or even strike you as naive, but it’s important to understand that Apple is not in business in order to make money. Oh sure, they need to make money to survive as a company, but making money is not their raison d’être (their reason for being).

If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow. ~ Steve Jobs

Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. ~ Steve Jobs

We don’t take so long and make the way we make for fiscal reasons. ~ Jony Ive

Apple doesn’t make nice things in order to make money. It’s the other way around.

We make money to make nice things. Ive at Design Museum

The goal of Apple is not to make money but to make really nice products, really great products. That is our goal and as a consequence if they are good, people will buy them and we’ll make money. ~ Jony Ive

Our goal isn’t to make money. Our goal absolutely at Apple is not to make money. This may sound a little flippant, but it’s the truth…. Our goal and what gets us excited is to try to make great products. We trust that if we are successful people will like them, and if we are operationally competent we will make revenue, but we are very clear about our goal. ~ Jony Ive

We’re not focused on the numbers, we’re focused on the things that produce the numbers [emphasis added] ~ Tim Cook

My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. ~ Steve Jobs


So if Apple isn’t in it for the money, what are they all about?

If you listen to what Apple says about itself, the words “great” and “best” recur over and over again. But the words are not being used to describe Apple, the company. They are being used to describe the products that Apple, the company, makes.

We don’t strive to appear cool. We just try to make the best products we can. And if they are cool, well, that’s great. ~ Steve Jobs

Our goal is to make the best devices in the world. It’s not to be the biggest. ~ Steve Jobs

We’ve always believed that our role in life is to make the best, not the most. ~ Tim Cook

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. ~ Tim Cook

Our north star is to make the best product. Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point, or for this arbitrary schedule, or line up other things or have X number of phones, it’s to build the best. ~ Tim Cook


What is Apple’s mission? To make the very best products in the world that really deeply enrich people’s lives. That’s what we’re about. And now it’s not to make the most. It’s not to have the highest market cap, but that’s the result of doing the first one well. That’s what we’re about. And hopefully you can see that in our products and, more importantly, feel that in the experience you have using them. That’s what we’re about.

And everybody here knows that. That’s the beauty of this place. We don’t have to put posters on the wall to remind people of that. Everybody knows it. [emphasis added] ~ Tim Cook

Go back and re-read the last paragraph of the above Tim Cook quote. Do you see what he is saying there? He is talking about everyone at Apple knowing what’s expected of them without being told. When you’re talking about knowing what you have to do, i.e., knowing what your mission is, without being told, you’re talking about culture.

The only purpose for me in building a company is so that it can make products. Of course, building a very strong company and a foundation of talent and culture is essential over the long run to keep making great products. ~ Steve Jobs

If [people] are working in an environment where excellence is expected, then they will do excellent work without anything but self-motivation. I’m talking about an environment in which excellence is noticed and respected and is in the culture. If you have that, you don’t have to tell people to do excellent work. They understand it from their surroundings. You may have to coach them at first, but then you just get out of their way, and they’ll surprise you time and time again. ~ Steve Jobs

(Steve was) (a)lways expecting the very best. Apple has a culture of excellence that I think is so unique. [emphasis added] ~ Tim Cook

A startup’s culture develops — usually spontaneously — in order to solve an initial problem. If the culture is great at solving that problem — and if that problem is one worth solving — the company becomes great.

[pullquote]First you create the culture…then the culture creates you[/pullquote]

It’s important to understand that first you create the culture…then the culture creates you.

Whenever a subsequent puzzle arises, the company intuitively, but absentmindedly, solves the new problem in the old way. No edicts need be issued, no instructions need be given, no words need be said. “This is how we do things” becomes the explicit mantra of the company. “This is why we do things” becomes the implicit mantra of the company.

Product is easy to copy. The culture that produced the product is hard to copy ~ Alex Y. (@jitbit)

This gives the company a huge competitive advantage. The company instinctively, and almost effortlessly, solves problems that their competitors struggle to deal with.


Yes, culture is the solution…but it’s also the problem. Times change, but culture does not.

(W)hile a company can reinvent itself around new products and new categories, and continue to thrive, I believe culture is the sort of pie that can only be baked once. ~ Ben Thompson

Newly hired CEO’s of struggling companies are always talking about changing the company’s culture…

It’s tempting for execs of disrupted companies to focus on “changing culture”. It seems more doable than admitting the business is obsolete. ~ Ben Thompson

…but culture doesn’t change.

If you hear that a mountain has moved, believe; but if you hear that a corporation has changed its culture, believe it not. ~ pseudo ancient wisdom

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he didn’t talk of changing Apple’s culture. He talked of returning Apple to its original culture.

One of the things that happened when we got back to Apple was, we said, Apple’s all confused. Apple’s forgotten what it is. Who is Apple? Why is Apple here?

What we’re going to do…is to get back to our core value. A lot of things have changed, the market’s a totally different place than it was a decade ago and Apple is totally different and Apple’s place in the market is totally different…but values, and core values — those things shouldn’t change. ~ Steve Jobs, 1997

Go back and re-read the last sentence of the above quote. It might be the most important quote in the entire series.

— Things change.
— Markets change.
— Apple changes.
— But Apple’s values, and core values…they should remain the same.

To forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


Pundits glibly talk about a company changing its strategy, but everything — including strategy — is built on top of culture. No strategy can survive if the underlying culture does not support it.

Let me stop here and repeat that, because it is really, really important and it is also really, really ignored by both the ignorant and the intelligent alike.

[pullquote] You can’t change your strategy unless your underlying culture supports the new strategy.[/pullquote]

You can’t change your strategy unless your underlying culture supports the new strategy.

Culture eats strategy over breakfast. ~ Peter Drucker

If a company is being asked to employ a strategy that is incompatible with its culture, they are not being asked to change themselves, they are being asked to change their very nature, their very being.

Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got. ~ Peter Drucker

Asking a company to use a strategy that is incompatible with its culture is like asking a fish to fly or a hawk to swim. Yet this is exactly what the critics — smug in their naiveté — ask of Apple.


What is Apple’s “why”?

We do these things not because we are control freaks. We do them because we want to make great products, because we care about the user, and because we like to take responsibility for the entire experience rather than turn out the crap that other people make. ~ Steve Jobs

If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you. ~ Steve Jobs

Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands. But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny. ~ Carl Schurz

Apple wants to make a significant contribution.

Our objective isn’t to make this design for this kind of price point, or for this arbitrary schedule, or line up other things or have X number of phones, it’s to build the best. … Can we make a significant contribution far beyond what others have done in this area? Can we make a product that we all want? ~ Tim Cook at AllThingsD

Apple wants to make things better.

Some people see innovation as change, but we have never really seen it like that. It’s making things better. ~ Tim Cook

Apple wants to be the bridge.

Apple has always been, and I hope it will always be, one of the premiere bridges between mere mortals and this very difficult technology. We may have the fastest PCs, which we do, we may have the most sophisticated machines, which we do. But the most important thing is that Apple is the bridge. ~ Steve Jobs, 1999

Apple wants to change the way you live your life.

We want to change the way you live your life. ~ Tim Cook

Apple wants to make the world a better place.

The competitors, like Commodore and Kaypro, were all doing speeds and feeds, whereas Steve always wanted things like “What is the significance in the world? How might this change things? ~ Steve Hayden, copywriter on the Apple account for Chiat\Day (later vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather) ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.” iBooks.

The reason I went back to Apple is that I feel like the world would be a better place with Apple in it than not. And it’s hard to imagine the world without Apple now. ~ Steve Jobs

Thank you for your support of this company. I think the world’s a better place for it. ~ Steve Jobs

Apple is a conspiracy to change the world. ((A great company is a conspiracy to change the world. ~ Peter Theil))

We said, “Well, these are our roots. This is why we’re here. The world doesn’t need another Dell or Compaq. They need an Apple.” ~ Steve Jobs

Critics take note. Not every company should do things the way Apple does. But neither should Apple do things the way every other company does. The world doesn’t need Apple to be Google or Facebook or Amazon. They need Apple to be Apple.


Tomorrow, part 7 of 7.

1. Who is Apple innovating for?
2. Where should Apple’s innovation be focused?
3. How does Apple innovate?
4. When should Apple introduce its innovations?
5. What does innovation inside of Apple look like to someone outside of Apple?
6. Why does Apple do what it does?
7. Why not be Apple?

Published by

John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

30 thoughts on “Part 6: Why Does Apple Do What It Does?”

  1. A commentator I respect said in a podcast yesterday that with Alexa, Amazon is committed to supporting partners with its product. He said that is “an even bigger deal than it seems.”

    The commentator said that because of this, “Apple should fear Amazon.”

    1. Apple should fear everyone. And I suspect they do.

      “We’re always paranoid. We live paranoid, and we always want the very best products, and if we’re not beating someone else, we’re trying to beat the thing that we have currently shipping. Everybody here lives on the edge.” ~ Tim Cook

  2. Another good one. Thanks.

    This is one of those profound ideas that appear ridiculously simple.

    ‘Quality’ is difficult to define in words. Entire books sometimes fall short (though Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig comes pretty close).

    A culture that embraces an elusive goal like ‘quality’ is even harder to define, let alone create.

  3. “but culture doesn’t change.”

    While there is much truth in this essay, I think it’s important not to make blanket statements like this.

    Nations have cultures, specific personalities. You can, for instance, talk about the national culture of Germany or of the US. Those cultures are dynamic living things, they shift and flux over time. They have roots that don’t move, and they have branches that are ephemeral. They have parts that go well together and parts that contradict one another. At any given moment of time, some aspects will be more evident than others. For instance, America has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants (“give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free”) and an equally long tradition of regarding immigrants as a menace to be stopped (the current election).

    So much is intuitively obvious. But it can be very hard to figure out just what a country’s national character is without veering off into caricature, stereotypes, or racism. And it can be very difficult to tease out the ephemeral or contingent aspects of a culture from the unchanging bits.

    The same goes just as strongly for the character of any large institution like a company. Saying that a company has a specific culture is obvious. Figuring out exactly what that culture is, or determining what bits are immovable roots and what bits are changeable branches, can be really very hard.

    Who could have guessed six years ago that Apple’s famous culture of paranoia and obsessive secrecy was mostly due to Steve Jobs, and subject to change? Is it possible to tell how much of Microsoft’s infamous culture of backstabbing and infighting is founded on corporate culture and how much is due to their dysfunctional “stack ranking” system of employee evaluations? Is the Catholic Church’s instinctive cover-up and blame dodging in response to the many scandals of how it treated pedophile priests just SOP bureaucratic ass covering, or is does it have a root in the culture of the church?

    We all hear about the negative examples of companies whose managers tried to change things, to adapt to changing times, only to run aground on a stubborn root of corporate culture. But there are other companies that have endured for decades, that have successfully shifted their focus from one area to another in response to changing circumstances. Knowing before hand which corporate makeovers will fail and which will succeed is probably impossible. Being able to tell ahead of time what corporate personality traits are subject to revision and which are not is probably impossible.

  4. Is this series sponsored by Apple ? Given that it’s mostly made up of Apple PR taken at face value, it should be.

    1. You’re labeling all John Kirk’s carefully thought-out reasoning as PR. If you want to counter him, you need to deal with that directly.

  5. Oops, this is for obarthelemy below…

    Why must you classify Steve and Tim’s company culture as Apple PR? At least Apple has a culture, a driving force. Is your comment motivated by pure cynicism and Apple-hate? It seems to be.

    Your typical anti-Apple commentary is usually more nuanced and thought-out. This just seems cheap. Apple is unique, get over it.

    1. Other companies don’t get such fawning, uncritical regurgitation of PR though. It is beyond naive to take *everything* that’s said by an Apple exec as not PR at all, which is what is happening here. Some exec public statements are candid sometimes. Not all the time. Not most of the time. Accepting everything as-is is laughable.

      That’s actually good for Apple and an impressive achievement, but at some points in time, analysts will need to engage their brain.

      1. Other companies also don’t receive so much gratuitous, unnecessary criticism or cynical denial of the company’s contributions to society and technological progress. If you choose to focus on Apple PR, whatever, but don’t confuse the founder’s mission statements with the typical fluff and blather. Who is this person that believes everything out of Cupertino? The opposite seems to be true these days. When has anyone watched a Jony Ive video recently and not mocked it?

        1. as for “contributing to society”, Apple is exclusive, not inclusive. They’re only interested in the sliver of society that is able and willing to sustain their margins.

          1. And yet they’re trying to sell their used phones in India cheaply… Making the best products doesn’t mean they’re affordable to all – let’s fault Apple for that. Still, the huge resale market for Apple products does make them affordable to most, and there are no margins for Apple there.

          2. And Apple is unique in being exclusive? Is Tesla inclusive? If Samsung or Google could charge more for their phones, you think they wouldn’t because it wouldn’t be “right?”

          3. I’m not using “right” or “wrong” on purpose. There’s not right or wrong, companies are *supposed* to maximize profits. But bystanders aren’t supposed to fall in love with companies and credit them with “changing society” when it’s 15% of it, and the 15% that could use+afford the same thing are the 85% (the reverse isn’t true).

            Apple is magnificent at generating profit and convincing people to part with a disproportionate amount of money to buy iPhones. Endless love logorrheas don’t change the fact that the last time Apple disrupted was the iPhone quasi a decade ago, since then they’ve been iterating and refining the “easy+sexy” formula, but others have caught on. Today, Apple could disappear overnight and we’d all keep on doing the same things on slightly different and much cheaper devices. Not much of a societal contribution.

          4. Baloney. The progress in UI and phone design that Apple pioneered oh-so-long-ago has trickled down to the masses by copy-cat phone makers. Who do you credit for multi-touch UI on all smartphones? Yes, that’s a contribution to society, period. Bystanders are free to fall in love with anything or company they choose and apply credit where it is due regardless of what percentage of the world that particular company’s products reach. Your basis for judgment is flawed. The desktop computer is still not affordable to all, so therefore it is not a valid step forward for society?

            Today Apple could disappear and we’d all still be benefitting from the progress they made – regardless of how much present or future similar tech products cost. Should we resent any company that makes high-end products and discount any benefit the products might provide because of affordability? Seems pretty myopic to me and one-sided…

          5. Frankly, I credit multitouch UIs to the invention of multitouch capacitive screens, the UIs followed right in their footsteps, in 1991. They predate the iPhone by about 10 years: .

            Apple did an excellent job implementing those ideas and technologies in a smartphone. They can’t take credit for the original idea, invention, innovation though. “do it in a phone” patents are just as… phony… as “do it with a computer” patents.

            I think Apple accelerated the natural evolution of phones. They melded the ease of use & UI of Palm with the power of Windows CE/Phone/Mobile (I get lost in MS’s successive names ^^). That was very nice. It would have happened anyway.

            re: desktop computers… aren’t smartphones and tablets having a much bigger impact on society (well, and on more societies ?), precisely because of their much lower cost, especially when all is taken into account: no need for a secure room+desk, no need for peripherals, no need for power+phone lines, no need for user+admin skills, free apps… A PC by itself is $80 these days (Win10+Android, Atom, 2GB + 32GB: , Tronsmart is a legit 2/3rd tier OEM, I prefer that one w/ a touchscreen for $25 more:—Black-344437.html )

          6. So you concede my other points and come up with this total cop-out: “It would have happened anyway.” I guess you could say that about everything and never give credit to anyone. Xerox invented the mouse, but didn’t know what to do with it. Toshiba invented the 1.8 inch hard drive, but didn’t know how to use it. Apple figured out how to utilize capacitive screens effectively – others didn’t – get over it. The fact that they did it first and made a dent in the universe is the point. Saying it would have happened anyway is too easy and unprovable. Moving on.

          7. You can call that a cop out and a concession… I was doing everything the iPhone 1 was sold to do (read, browse, play music, view movies, PIM, games, QuickOffice with a keyboard…) on a Palm a few years before. It did require a stylus, wifi, and a lot of footwork. And missed the phone part ^^ I know history is written by the victors, but still, a bit of credit where credit is due… I think there’s a lot of attribution bias.

          8. Not at all. I qualified my statement by saying that Apple was first to implement multi-touch “effectively.” No longer did you need a stylus and a lot of footwork to use a phone as a 21st century communication device. The attribution bias is your own. I know Apple is only Apple, but you deny or belittle what they’ve done.

          9. You can’t save all the consumers, just your circle of influence. However, there seems to be hundreds of millions that seem pretty happy with Apple and hundreds of millions, if not billions+ happy with something else and isn’t that pretty awesome!

            And, you, like anyone else gets to cry about first world problems openly. But, should that really be our focus? Just think if you focused your energy away from the topic of Apple.

    2. Obytrollby doesn’t like when anyone questions the Apple critics.

      All of obytrollby’s googled secondhand “evidence” dries up, leaving him looking like the empty-opinioned Android settler that he is.

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