Tim Cook Has The Know-How But Steve Jobs Had The Know-Why

on June 28, 2014
Reading Time: 7 minutes

On June 13, 2014, John Gruber posted his epic, “Only Apple.” In part of his article, Gruber focused specifically on the changes occurring at Apple under new CEO, Tim Cook.

Jobs was a great CEO for leading Apple to become big. But Cook is a great CEO for leading Apple now that it is big, to allow the company to take advantage of its size and success. Matt Drance said it, and so will I: What we saw last week at WWDC 2014 would not have happened under Steve Jobs.

New Apple didn’t need a reset. New Apple needed to grow up. To stop behaving like an insular underdog on the margins and start acting like the industry leader and cultural force it so clearly has become. ~ John Gruber

These words were received with near unanimous approval by the Apple community. But is Gruber’s sentiment accurate? Does Apple really need to “grow up” and become more mature? Whatever happened to Steve Jobs’s famous admonition that one should:

“Stay hungry, stay foolish”? ((Stewart [Brand] and his team put out several issues of the Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. . . . On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath were the words, “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” ~ Steve Jobs))

Is Tim Cook The Better CEO?

When Cook succeeded Jobs, the question we all asked was more or less binary: Would Apple decline without Steve Jobs? What seems to have gone largely unconsidered is whether Apple would thrive with Cook at the helm, achieving things the company wasn’t able to do under the leadership of the autocratic and mercurial Jobs.” ~ John Gruber

There’s not a doubt in my mind that Tim Cook is a better CEO than Steve Jobs ever was. I thought so from day one. But is that the right question? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves instead whether or not Tim Cook is a leader and whether he can lead Apple forward without Apple losing that rare mixture of genius and madness that made Apple so very unique?

The Price Of Efficiency

It has long been axiomatic that Apple is not the sort of company that could walk and chew gum at the same time. In 2007, they issued a (very Steve Jobs-sounding) press release that stated Mac OS X Leopard would be delayed five months because the iPhone consumed too many resources:

However, iPhone contains the most sophisticated software ever shipped on a mobile device, and finishing it on time has not come without a price — we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned.

Or consider the October 2010 “Back to the Mac” event, the entire point of which was to announce features and apps for the Mac that had started life on iOS years earlier. ~ John Gruber

Apple has always generated stories like this. It’s long been a given that Apple is understaffed — that Apple had only one guy doing project X and when he got pulled to work on project Y, project X foundered and ground to a halt. Such delays drove us all crazy as understaffed Apple let things — important things — linger, sometimes near death.

But did you ever ask yourself why this was? It’s not like Apple was under resourced. They’ve got more money than god. And it’s not like Steve Jobs was a head-in-the-clouds CEO who didn’t recognize the need to acquire additional talent. So why? Why?

Throughout the years in business, I found something. I always ask why you do things. The answers you invariably get is, “That’s just the way it’s done.” Nobody knows why they do what they do. Nobody thinks about things very deeply in business, that’s what I found. ~ Steve Jobs

Being inefficient was one of the many prices Apple paid for having Steve Jobs as its CEO. Jobs notoriously didn’t tolerate “B” players on his team. He felt they infected the company and soon led to the proliferation of “C” players as well. Jobs wanted only “A” players and he was willing to have Apple be understaffed rather than to fill vacancies with anything less that what he deemed to be the best.

[pullquote]Some enjoy comforting the the afflicted. Steve Jobs enjoyed afflicting the comfortable.[/pullquote]

So you put the B team on this one, did you? ~ Steve Jobs

The result? Superb products that were always running on the edge, always running late; always in danger of not coming out in a timely fashion or in any fashion at all.

This is a very uncomfortable way to run a company. It’s a very inefficient way to run a company. But it also proved to be a very effective way to run a company.

Is Apple running smoother now? Undoubtably. But is that necessarily the good thing everyone seems to think it is? Perhaps not.

Apple Wants To Be The Developer’s Friend

John Gruber writes:

(Apple has) begun to act more magnanimously. They’ve given third-party developers more of what we have been asking for than ever before, including things we never thought they’d do. Panic’s Cabel Sasser tweeted:

My 2¢: for the past few years it’s felt like Apple’s only goal was to put us in our place. Now it feels like they might want to be friends.

It’s ironic (to me, at least) that John Gruber used the above tweet as an example of how well Apple is doing when, in my article entitled “Whither Apple or Wither Apple?“, I used that very same tweet as a cautionary tale. My take from that article:

You know who needs a friend, Cabel? End users, that’s who. Because when developers become more important than end users you get — Microsoft. Putting developers “in their place” — which is, to say, placed behind end users — is exactly what Apple should be doing.

Does the above mean that I want Apple to not have a good relationship with their developers? Not at all. I just don’t want that increased friendliness come at the cost of losing focus on the end user. Because if that focus is lost, Apple is lost as well.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness

Undoubtably, Tim Cook is making the machine that is Apple run more efficiently. But efficiency is getting the trains to run on time. Effectiveness is getting the trains to the right stations. It doesn’t matter how fast you’re going, unless you’re going in the right direction.

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

Sure, what we do has to make commercial sense, but it’s never the starting point. We start with the product and the user experience. ~ Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’s “North Star” was making a great product that provided the end user with a great experience. But what is Tim Cook’s guiding principle?

What is Apple’s mission? To make the very best products in the world that really deeply enrich people’s lives. ~ Tim Cook

Identical in word. That’s good. But identical in deed? That’s the hard part.

Creativity Is Fragile

I’ve found that the most creative people are confident about one thing: their doubts in themselves. ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)

At the memorial service given on the Apple campus following Steve Jobs’ death, Jony Ive had this to say:

[pullquote]Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say “wow,” and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas. ~ Steve Jobs[/pullquote]

Steve used to say to me (and he used to say this a lot), “Hey Jony, here’s a dopey idea.” And sometimes they were — really dopey. Sometimes they were truly dreadful.

But sometimes they took the air from the room, and they left us both completely silent. Bold, crazy, magnificent ideas. Or quiet, simple ones which, in their subtlety, their detail, they were utterly profound.

SJobs

As I re-watched the video and re-read the transcript of Ive’s speech, I was re-reminded of the fact that creativity lives on the edge.

[pullquote]This is the thing about creativity that is rarely acknowledged: Most people don’t actually like it. ~ @jessicaolien[/pullquote]

Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected. ~ William Plomer

Creativity is dopey thinking — right up until the moment when it suddenly becomes brilliant. It’s unimaginable thinking — right up until the moment that it suddenly becomes the only solution imaginable. It’s uncomfortable thinking, it’s dangerous thinking, it’s lonely, isolated thinking — right up until the moment when it’s embraced by all.

Artists often work within the uncomfortable space that precedes “Aha!” or “Oh, I get it!” ~ johnmaeda (@johnmaeda)

People listened to to the crazy, creative ideas of Steve Jobs because Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs was the CEO. And sometimes even that wasn’t enough. Sometimes, they STILL didn’t listen to Steve Jobs and they fired Steve Jobs, even from the company he had helped to found.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one. ~ E. B. White

Now that Steve Jobs is gone, who is there at Apple to promulgate, and to promote and — most of all — to protect fragile new ideas?

The best CEOs try to make their companies a safe place for those with wild ideas, and a wild place for those with safe ideas. ~ Dr. Mardy

Conclusion

Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally. ~ John Maynard Keynes

know how knowledge or education concept with button on computer keyboard

The thing that bound us together at Apple was the ability to make things that were going to change the world. ~ Steve Jobs

[pullquote]The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order. ~ Alfred North Whitehead[/pullquote]

Despite all my questioning and kvetching, I do believe that Tim Cook is — as Steve Jobs was — bound to Apple by his desire to make things that are going to change the world. And I believe that Tim Cook is just crazy enough to give the crazy people the run of the company. ((Updated language courtesy of Michael Glotzer @Mglo))

But I don’t know that for sure. It’s far, far too early to make that call.

Now don’t get me wrong. Based on all the available evidence, the verdict is clear — Cook and Apple are on the right track.

But that’s exactly the problem. There’s mounds of evidence in existence that we are not privy to. And there will be mountains more evidence produced over the next couple of years. So any verdict reached today will be terribly, terribly premature.

[pullquote]Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. ~ Matsuo Basho[/pullquote]

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path. ~ Steve Jobs

images-100It’s as if Steve Jobs was speaking to us — and particularly to Tim Cook — from beyond the grave. Tim Cook has to be his own man and do his own thing. We know he’s got the know-how to do the job. We’ll have to wait and see if he, and Apple, still retain the know-why.