Monday, March 05, 2012

Can Companies Learn from Apple?

Adam Lashinsky's article has published an article on titled, "3 things any company can learn from Apple." (drawn from his book to the left)  I especially love the first point.  My students know that I preach this point about "saying no" all the time! Here's the excerpt:

Say no more often. Steve Jobs was fond of saying that saying no was harder -- and more important -- than saying yes. Apple said no to making personal digital assistants, in the 90s that is. It said no for years to making a telephone-- until it said yes. Apple refused to focus on selling to businesses. It wouldn't put a USB port on the first iPad. And so on. While not every company can achieve Apple's level of Zen by rejecting seemingly good business opportunities, there isn't a company out there that wouldn't benefit by more rigorously asking itself: "Have we absolutely satisfied ourselves that we have said yes for the right reasons?" How many companies pursue revenue opportunities that any new recruit knows the company is doing to make money rather than delight customers. (An example: Jobs ridiculed the PC industry for years for the margin-boosting "crapware" that comes loaded on a PC. The crap remains.) It takes real courage to say no. But it's not like top executives aren't being compensated for brave action.

I would like to make a larger point though.  I think leaders need to be very careful about trying to draw lessons from Apple and apply them to their businesses.  First of all, Apple is a very unique animal, unlike most other firms in terms of its fundamental DNA.   Secondly, we must remember that competitive advantage derives from fit among strategy, structure, systems, culture, and people.   It doesn't come from a silver bullet - a single core competence, one particular strategic choice, a specific business principle or value.  Emulating Apple in one or two dimensions may not bring much advantage to a firm, if that choice doesn't align well with everything else a company does.  Changing a company for the better requires systemic change, not just a tweak here or there that results from a benchmarking exercise of a stellar firm.   

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