Posted September 6, 2012: In last week’s post, “Apple Sauce: Vanilla Ice’s Advice to Apple” we discussed Apple’s ability to remain a Game Changer in the absence of iconic rebel-leader, Steve Jobs who lead with ‘WHY’ and challenging the status quo. Today, we’re going to dive a little deeper into the organization, including an exclusive interview with a veteran Apple team member.

“When the rhetoric of success (“We’re successful because we do these specific things”) replaces penetrating understanding and insight (“We’re successful because we understand WHY we do these specific things and under what conditions they would no longer work”), decline will very likely follow.” –Jim Collins (How the Mighty Fall)

We must ask ourselves a question. Was Apple’s success driven by creating innovative products or something intangible that compelled people to join their tribe and buy their innovative products? In an interview with the Telegraph UK, Apple’s chief designer Sir Jonathan Ive (creator of the iPad and iPhone) said this; “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.” That statement does not echo ‘Think Different’ or challenging the status quo.

Upgrade Fatigue:
“Innovation can fuel growth, but frenetic innovation –growth that erodes consistence tactical excellence – can just as easily send a company through the stages of decline….. Catastrophic decline can be brought about by driven, hard-working, and creative people” – Jim Collins (How the Mighty Fall)

Recently, Seth Godin suggested Apple is in a precarious situation in regard to its fans, “A new upgrade or a new TV commercial might be a step too far, and they (customer/fans) walk away, sad that yet another cutting edge organization has succumbed to mass mediocrity.” If the ‘Think Different’ mantra continues to drive the organization, we can expect Apple to continue to break the mold and blaze new paths. However, if their mantra has changed into “we make great products”, Apple may be on the path to mediocrity.

There has been a term bubbling around the internet called “upgrade fatigue”. When you buy the latest Apple gadget, they are already preparing to replace it. When you use Apple software, you will spend considerable time upgrading it quite frequently. Since iPhone was introduced in June 2007, Apple has introduced five models and rumor has it that it will release its sixth model this fall. There have been three models of iPad released since April 2010. The iPhone was revolutionary and the iPad was an expected logical next step.

Inside Apple:
I decided to ask a good friend who has worked for Apple for more than a decade, a few questions about the organization and get his personal views. I’ll refer to him as Mike.

As with any organization or movement headed by a strong and charismatic leader, I assumed that Mike felt a strong connection with Steve Jobs while he was alive although he did not personally know Jobs. Mike reinforced my assumption and provided me with personal insight into his connection with Jobs and Apple by stating emphatically, “I would not be where I am today had Jobs (& Wozniak) not sold the first Apple I in 1976”. Mike happened to be reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs on his iPhone when he had this revelation. Jobs seemed to humanize a corporation. Mike said, “I have NEVER thought I worked for one (corporation).” While the area in which Mike works is focused on products, people and sales, he went on to say; “There’s a rebellious nature to the company as well, which is deeply rooted in Jobs’ own personal philosophies. That is one thing I know I will personally miss, his so-called “reality distortion field”, where he can make the impossible happen…get employees to do things they never imagined possible…”

Earlier this summer, Apple Computer missed earnings expectations for the second time with Tim Cook at the helm. Jobs was excellent at creating and sustaining excitement around Apple products but was equally adept at managing expectations around company earnings. As of this writing, Apple stock is trading at $676.00 per share. It’s up 85% for the year even after missing expectations the last two quarters. Forget Wall Street analysts for a moment. Is it even possible for Apple to meet the astronomical expectations of their tribe?

In conclusion, I will leave you with this. Mike said, “He (Tim Cook) actually believes that our culture is one of our special ‘secret weapons’ that simply can’t be copied (unlike our products!).” If this is true and Apple culture is actually built around ‘Why’, then among the tribe there may be an emerging leader who can communicate on behalf of Apple. That is the hope anyway. However, at this point I think that there is enough evidence to suggest that Apple is currently being lead by ‘what’ and ‘how’.

The DNA of the leader is found throughout the organization. The organization’s strengths and weaknesses will be those of the leader. Leading with ‘why’ and challenging the status quo is Apple’s ultimate challenge going forward. The question is: Can Apple continue ‘Think Different’?