Part 7: Why Not Be Apple?


This is part 7 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 Not

Why Not Be Apple?


Critics of Apple remind me of a joke:

A shepherd is herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand new Tesla advances out of a dust cloud towards him. The driver, a young professional in a Hugo Boss suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and a YSL tie leans out of the window and says, ‘Tell you what, I’ll bet you $100 against one of your sheep that I can tell you the exact number in that flock.’

The shepherd thinks for a moment. It is a big mob and he can’t see how anyone could guess correctly so he says, ‘OK. You’re on.’

The newcomer parks the car, whips out his laptop, connects it to a mobile phone, surfs to a NASA page on the internet where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system, scans the area, opens up a database and 60 Excel spreadsheets with complex formulas. Finally he prints out a 150 page report on his hi-tech miniaturized printer, turns to the shepherd and says, ‘You have here exactly 1586 sheep.’

The shepherd nods his head and says, ‘That is correct. A bet’s a bet. Take any sheep.’

The man picks up an animal and is about to walk off when the shepherd says, ‘Hang on. Bet you double or nothing that I can guess your occupation.’

The man thinks, ‘How would he know, he’s never met me before’ and says ‘Righto. You’re on’.

The shepherd says, ‘You’re a Wall Street analyst who specializes in critiquing Apple.’

The man whistles . ‘How the heck did you know that?’

‘Easy,’ answers the shepherd. ‘You turn up here although nobody invited you, you want to be compensated for an answer to a question no one asked you, you provided information that was already known…and that’s not the half of it.’

The newcomer is slack-jawed. ‘What’s the other half?’

‘Well,’ says the shepherd, ‘you put my dog down and I’ll tell you.’

That’s Apple’s critics for you. They have all the facts. They’ve crunched all the numbers. They’ve done all the analysis. But they really don’t understand the business that Apple is in.


That’s the way with (critics), they’re always biting the hand that lays the golden egg. ~ Samuel Goldwyn

At the end of the day, the critics’ advice to Apple comes down to this:

The only way for Apple to be successful in the future is to abandon what made them successful in the past and to adopt, instead, the practices of their less successful competitors.

In other words, “Don’t be Apple.”

Why would Apple even consider taking such dreadful advice?

No vice is so bad as advice. ~ Marie Dressler

The advice the critics are giving is not new. Critics have been giving Apple the same bad advice ever since Apple was incorporated on April 1, 1976. (Perhaps the critics think Apple is an elaborate April fools joke.)

It’s like déjà vu all over again. ~ Yogi Berra

It’s not helpful. Instead of looking for viable solutions, most critics are simply looking for trouble, finding it where it does not exist, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedy. (( Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy. ~ Ernest Benn))

Things are never so bad they can’t be made worse. ~ Humphrey Bogart

It’s not informed. The people who know the least about Apple’s past are the one’s who insist they know the most about Apple’s future.

The further back you look, the further forward you can see. ~ Winston Churchill

It’s ignorant. Those who understand innovation the least are the ones who are the least understanding.

Fascinating how “I don’t know what Apple is doing” comes out of people’s mouths as “Apple doesn’t know what it is doing.” ~ Ben Thompson (@benthompson)

It’s superficial. It focuses on the what can been seen, ignores the unseen, and trivializes what takes place behind the scenes.

The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. ~ Muhammad Ali

It’s arrogant.

Listening to critics tell Apple how to innovate is like listening to vulture tell a fish how to swim.

It’s wrong-headed.

Most of the “advice” people have been giving Tim Cook today on how to run Apple would eventually bankrupt the company. ~ Neil Cybart on Twitter

And it’s not coming from a good place.

Mediocre minds usually dismiss anything which reaches beyond their own understanding. ~ Francois de La Rochefouca


My advice to Apple is to not take any advice. But if they’re foolish enough to listen to me, here is what I would say:

Relax. Take a deep breath. This too shall pass.

In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these. ~ Paul Harvey

You can’t please everyone. Nor should you try.

You can’t base your life on other people’s expectations. ~ Stevie Wonder

You’re going to be criticized no matter what you do.

Do what you feel in your heart to be right – for you’ll be criticized anyway. ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

Ignore the short-term investors.

Successful investing is about having people agree with you … later. ~ James Grant

Ignore the doomsayers.

Never tell me the odds. ~ Han Solo, Star Wars

Don’t let the critics tell you what you can do.

McCabe’s Law: Nobody has to do anything. ~ Charles McCabe

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G. K. Chesterton

Don’t let the critics tell you what you can’t do.

The greatest pleasure in life is doing what people say you cannot do. ~ Walter Bagehot

Don’t listen to people who say it can’t be done. ~ Steve Jobs

Don’t let the critics tell you who you are.

Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself. ~ Harvey Fierstein

I don’t have to be what you want me to be. ~ Muhammad Ali

Go your own way.

The wisest men follow their own direction. ~ Euripides

Do what you do best.

Let each man pass his days in that wherein his skill is greatest. ~ Sextus Propertius

Do what you love.

I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate. ~ George Burns

Be who you are.

Whatever you are, be a good one. —Abraham Lincoln

I think you have to be what you are. Don’t try to be somebody else. You have to be yourself at all times. ~ John Wooden

Be Apple.

Dare to be yourself. ~ Andre Gide

And Apple, if you’re misunderstood, so what?

To be great is to be misunderstood. ~ Emerson

Innovation always has been — and always will be — misunderstood.

The trouble with innovation is that truly innovative ideas often look like bad ideas at the time. That’s why they are innovative — until now, nobody ever figured out that they were good ideas. ~ Ben Horiwitz

When you innovate, you must prepare yourself for everybody to tell you that you’re nuts. ~ Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle

We are willing to think long-term. We start with the customer and work backwards. And, very importantly, we are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time [emphasis added]. ~ Jeff Bezos, founder & CEO,

Invention requires a long-term willingness to be misunderstood. You do something that you genuinely believe in, that you have conviction about, but for a long period of time, well-meaning people may criticize that effort. When you receive criticism from well-meaning people, it pays to ask, ‘Are they right?’ And if they are, you need to adapt what they’re doing. If they’re not right, if you really have conviction that they’re not right, you need to have that long-term willingness to be misunderstood. It’s a key part of invention. ~ Jeff Bezos

And if people are saying you’re crazy, well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

If no one is telling you your idea is crazy, it’s probably not a very good idea. ~ Francis Ford Coppola


In 1997, just six weeks after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he announced the “Think Different” campaign. Here is a bit of the story behind the creation of the campaign:

Steve and I walked down the hall and on the door was this skull and crossbones taped on there. It was Chiat\Day. Lee Clow [the agency’s chief creative officer] gave this amazing performance about just how screwed up Apple was and how people felt ashamed that they were Mac people, and that they shouldn’t be. Then he just started showing pictures of people who did things different. Steve had tears in his eyes. There was no discussion about should it be “Think differently,” because Steve loved it. It was like the old band members were coming back together. ~ Tom Suiter ((Excerpt From: Max Chafkin. “Design Crazy.” iBooks.

Here is Steve Jobs introducing the Think Different campaign:

The theme of this campaign is Think Different, honoring the people who think different and who move this world forward. And it is what we are about; it touches the soul of this company.

Here is The Crazy Ones transcript:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. ~ Steve Jobs, October 5, 2011

Here is The Crazy Ones campaign video. I HIGHLY recommend you set aside sixty seconds to watch it. It’s well worth the time.

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?

53 thoughts on “Part 7: Why Not Be Apple?”

  1. Apple only shows you the past, what has shipped. The future is behind the curtain, not even a whiff of the what. Critics have word sandwiches to make for months and months, Whiffs only make for bad taking sandwiches, but who cares, who will remember the stall bread, green colored meat and the spoiled mayo when the New Past is show cased from cupertino? They hope no one. But the internet like books of old are read and reread for our entertainment. Keep up the good writing. thanks

    1. Thank you for you, Carrie. If I’ve inspired someone to read, well, that’s really saying something!

  2. I’m afraid this part was a bit of a let down. I’m a lot more interested in why no one else has been able to learn from Apple and copy its approach (what I thought the essay might be about from the title). When I saw what the focus of the essay was from the first few paragraphs, I hoped it would at least talk about why so few tech writers seem to comprehend Apple, but that wasn’t the essay you were writing either. Ah well. Overall an enjoyable series.

    Come to think of it, there’s another tech company that seems to be equally baffling to the tech pundit community — Craigslist.

    Craigslist is a tech giant run by people who don’t give a damn about making money, which makes it a baffling alien entity to the wealth-obsessed culture of silicon valley startups. Even worse, every attempt to clone craigslist “only with monetization built in” has failed miserably, because a monetized version of craigslist, no matter how much “better” it is made, is going to be worse for users than the actual craigslist. And the silicon valley mindset can no more understand how that can be the case than they can force a square peg into a round hole.

    Maybe apple is so baffling to the tech community because, while it does care about money in ways that craigslist doesn’t, it doesn’t approach profitability in the “right” ways. Just as the “I have more than enough money for the rest of my life, so why should I give a damn about using it to keep score” attitude of craigslist is incomprehensibly alien to the tech community, perhaps so too Apple’s “money is merely the natural byproduct of our primary activity, which is creating happy repeat customers” baffles the tech pundits because it doesn’t place enough importance on profit.

    1. “I’m a lot more interested in why no one else has been able to learn from Apple and copy its approach”

      No one else has been able to copy Apple because no one else is trying to copy Apple. Many want what Apple has. Few are willing to do what Apple does.

      Go back and skim through the series. Who else answers the questions I pose in the same way that Apple does? Off the top of my head, Pixar comes to mind. I’m sure there are others. Can you suggest who they are?

      1. “No one else has been able to copy Apple because no one else is trying to copy Apple.”

        Actually there have been lots of companies that tried to copy Apple, or some part of Apple. The mystifying part is that none of them appear to comprehend Apple well enough to do so at all effectively. The comical cargo cult aping of Apple’s trappings that Microsoft has undertaking in recent years with their line of Microsoft Stores and Surface product launch keynotes and so forth is merely the most obvious example.

        And of course, Amazon appears to have set its sights on the same “customer happiness first, last, and always” guidestar that Apple follows, but they’re doing so from such a completely opposite direction that very few people ever think to make the comparison.

        1. Well, I think we agree that companies have tried to copy Apple only at a superficial level. They don’t truly understand how Apple works. But, to be fair, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how Apple works and I’ve still got an awful lot to learn.

          1. Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Samsung are all trying to rule the world. They want everything, all of it. From the top end to the bottom end of the market across as wide a product spectrum as they cans stretch themselves.

            That’s a recipe for mediocrity and certainly not Apple’s way. They just want to produce great products and if that means they can’t sell it at a price that is accessible to the lower end of the market, so be it.

            This fundamental difference in corporate goals is why no one has successfully emulated Apple.

          2. As aardman says, what they want is the success and money, but they have no taste or style, let alone the ability to make a useable interface to (Literally) ANYTHING. Is there a device made by virtually anyone that has a clear interaction method that isn’t confusing, full of double negatives and traps? Is there any gadget that isn’t infuriating, generally ugly and failure prone due to appalling design and incompetent cost cutting?

            Even the guts of Apple products are beautiful, yet few will ever see them. In iFixits inevitable tear downs (irony right there), there is only a monetary assessment and repair criticism. Even Apple’s user manuals are useful. When did you find a so called instruction manual less then infuriating and unhelpful? Smart TV? I think not.

          1. Not mocking so much as a dispassionate assessment of the nature of Microsoft’s attempts to be like Apple. The MS stores and the launch of the Surface, both seemed to be founded on an expectation that simply by aping the external activities of Apple (having the same kinds of stores, hosting the same kinds of keynote product launches) would cause the same level of sales and the same level of profitability to magically happen to Microsoft. If it’s not an exercise in the same sort of sympathetic magic as the Melanesian cargo cults, and the same kind of utter incomprehension of what is actually going on beneath the surface as the cargo cults, then I don’t know what it is.

  3. Glaurung-Quena, in a comment above, wishes I had written a different article on a different question. Farrow Butt, on twitter made a similar request. What questions do you think I should tackle in future articles? Here are a couple possibilities to get things started:

    — “What would make Apple stop innovating?” Both historically & future looking.

    — “Why (has) no one else has been able to learn from Apple and copy its approach?

    — “Why (do) so few tech writers seem to comprehend Apple?

    1. The answer to your last two questions is that the tech industry believes Apple’s approach to technology is wrong, that it can’t work. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the tech industry (generally speaking) believes Apple will fail Any Day Now ™. Also, what Apple is doing is actually very difficult and cannot be copied quickly.

      1. Before the iPod much of the criticism was from “luminaries” of tech that unsurprisingly went bankrupt. Post iPhone it seems to be from people trying (and apparently succeeding) to manipulate the stock price. It’s impossible to stop people from believing anything they want to. Religion. Donald trump. Politicians.

  4. I can’t thank you enough for writing this series. Truly enjoyed reading it and your perspective in a cyclonic cacophony of doomsayers. By now, you would think critics should respect Apple’s ability to continue to innovate and iterate their products in the markets they choose to compete in, but I guess prognostications of doom pay better in the short term.

    The question remains why most other companies don’t emulate Apple? Are their respective cultures so ingrained from creation that they can’t be changed, or the focus not valued?

    Thanks again!

    1. On the one hand, critics are always going to gripe about something. For example, they used to complain that Apple only had 1 model iPhone and now they complain that Apple has 3 sizes and that’s too many!

      On the other hand, you’d think they’d be a bit more cautious after all the claim chowder they’ve generated. But no, no matter how stupid they looked in the past, they keep making fodder for future claim chowder at an alarming rate.

      Finally, you pose a good question: The question remains why most other companies don’t emulate Apple?” A couple people have asked this question. It might make for a good future article.

      Oh, and finally, finally, thank you for your kind words. They are sincerely appreciated.

  5. I like the way you diss analysts. I just wish you dissed all analysts, not just the Apple critical ones. See, analysts are about business, not tech. Analysts are like putting the odds makers above the sport, and the winner is at the gate receipts, not the scoreboard.

    1. The question we have to ask ourselves, not just about analysts but about everyone, is “how do they make their money?” Understanding the answer to this one question can explain most behavior.

      1. Obviously there’s a group of parasites trying to manipulate Apple’s stock price (with slanted journalism, etc) to their own gain or the gain of their masters. Equally obviously there’s a group of so-called industry analysts who don’t care to tell the truth to their clients when they can tell their clients what they want to hear.

        But there are also scads of tech writers who churn out BS about Apple but who don’t seem to be trying to do so out of a desire to manipulate stocks or to keep their clients happy. It’s that last group that’s really most baffling.

        1. Oh, I don’t know. There is a lot of attention and comfort in identifying with one tribe over another. The whole “love them or hate them, you can’t ignore them” mindset is even more pervasive on the internet. For most people, artists and their art, and companies and their products, the worst thing to happen is to be seen with indifference. Just read the comments sections.


        2. That’s what I’ve been saying. Manipulating Apple’s stock price seems to be easy money for big players and I’m sure it happens with most other stocks as the variations are mostly illogical. Herd mentality is obviously financially rewarding.
          The BS stories make sense if they’re funded by Samsung’s Department of FUD. Otherwise they’re as sane as Flat Earthers and creationists.

      2. Here’s a quote I don’t recall you using – Follow. The. Money.
        Thanks for your entertaining, illuminating and educational articles.

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