Apple iPhone

This week my Palm Treo 650 died and I replaced it with an Apple iPhone. These first few days, I have to say I’m very impressed. It far surpasses the Treo 650 (which cost $499 compared to the iPhone’s $199).

Also, by coincidence, this week I read a 2007 Fast Company article about Apple titled “If he’s so smart…Steve Jobs, Apple, and the limits of innovation”. The gist of the article is that Apple is perhaps a bit TOO focused on innovation. No doubt, their products lead the way (Mac, Newton, iPod, iPhone) but they have tended to lose dominance in a market, soon after other companies enter it.  According to the article, the other companies are better at executing, better at quality control, better at reducing costs and making money.

Even if that’s true, I wouldn’t recommend to Apple to be less innovative, but rather to enhance their execution and management capabilities.  But this raises a perennial management question: is innovation somehow incompatible with effective execution?  For example, the quality control method, Six Sigma, is widely believed to be incompatible with innovation.

What concerns me about Apple is their strategy of controlling the complete product, the complete user experience.  Historically, companies that tried to retain such tight control have always lost out in the marketplace, to other companies that are more open to partnerships and distributed innovation.  In my book GROUP GENIUS, I describe how distributed “collaborative webs” are always more successful than single companies, and I give several examples of how the more closed, controlling company lost out–in spite of starting with a better technology or bigger market share.  I didn’t use this example in the book, but that’s how Wintel beat Apple over the last 20 years.

The Application Store on my new iPhone 3G is very exciting, exactly what Apple needs to do: to open up the iPhone to a bigger collaborative web of innovators and developers.  This will be the real story over the next year.

8 thoughts on “Apple iPhone

  1. Noooooo….

    I know this is going to sound strange for someone who writes at a place called “Cult of Mac”, but yours was the last holdout on my RSS feed from the “All iPhone, All the Time” coverage of ours and just about every other site I follow…

  2. Don’t worry, I won’t keep going on about my new PDA. It is very nicely designed and I have no complaints (although getting my Palm OS calendar and contacts into Outlook 2003, so that I could then sync with the iPhone, was a nightmare).

    My blog gets more hits for my Apple postings, by far, than for any other topic I’ve written about. I think people who like Apple also spend a lot of time reading blogs! Not that there’s anything wrong with that 😉

  3. Q: have you read Leander’s book, inside steve’s brain? not that I’m pimping books, but it seems that Steve contradicts ALL of the rules you posted a while back about stifling creativity. And yet they’re creative and successful…

    It would be an interesting study.

  4. I’ll take a look at that book. No question that Apple is creative; they appear in the top ten of anybody’s list of innovative companies. Without knowing a lot about Apple, I can still say that having a strong leader with a vision is not incompatible with innovation–IF the leader’s vision, incentives, and culture are all focused on innovation. In fact, without a strong innovation vision at the top, a company is not likely to be very innovative (too many organizational pressures to revert to the Dilbert norm).

  5. Would be an interesting study…

    (this is the professional management consulting talking now)

    anecdotally, it seems like the most innovative organizations fall into one of two categories:

    First are the highly collaborative groups that seem to be in fashion of late. yet when I consider organizations which subscribe to this way of thinking, I can think immediately of only two which have created something truly earth shaking: The Manhattan and Apollo Projects (i’m sure there are others, but these two leap to mind).

    There is another dimension of creativity & innovation, which is the organization that is an appendage of its leader. These seem to break the rules of collaboration and group-genius. And examples are much more frequent: Apple, The Edison Companies (though Tom E. was known for bringing up mentees and letting them loose), Microsoft, Intel, Standard Oil, etc.

    It would be interesting to see a critical analysis of these two profiles. Clearly the Group-Genius view is more repeatable, yet the suggestion that the “Megalomaniac in charge” method might be more impactful or easier to accomplish is also worth considering.

  6. Ah, I think I understand what you’re getting at.

    Could it be that a big part of those “megalomaniac” companies is largely a myth? There can be public relations value in allowing one visionary individual to be the public face of a company’s spirit of innovation. But in almost every case, the public image doesn’t square with the reality. I tell several stories along these lines in my 2006 book EXPLAINING CREATIVITY but let’s focus on Thomas Edison. “His” inventions all came from his lab team; the word was that he wasn’t himself a very good inventor. But he was brilliant at creating good teams and the right culture and content for them to thrive. Even so, the media wanted him to be “the genius from Menlo Park” and he gave them what they wanted.

    So I guess I am questioning whether or not your second profile is ever actually what you find inside an innovative organization. I doubt that Apple’s innovation springs forth from Steve Job’s solo brilliance. But he might be channelling Edison’s ability to form creative teams.

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