Once you are gone a long time from a company where you worked many years, they become almost like a place where you lived and then moved a way. There are still ties, just not as many.
Just like when you move to place and chose an area for specific reasons like the schools, sometimes you end up working at company for more than just the job. Like many who went to work at Apple in the early eighties, I joined the company because it seemed to be something special.
I even resigned my good job as a sales manager in the hopes that Apple would offer me a spot. They did and it was an amazing ride as you read in my book, The Pomme Company.
That I and many others left our jobs and some like me took lesser paying ones to work at Apple is a measure of how unique the company was at that time. We believed that we were changing the world one computer user at a time.
While we were naive, Apple's computers did bring about huge changes in the way we interact with computers and what we could do with technology. Those first personal computers let us make massive strides in productivity in certain areas. They also gave us new ways to create content and get information to other people. In a sense they were a revolution and we were part of it.
Sometimes revolutions take you in directions you never imagine. My most recent post, Finding Your Way to Leadership, was sparked by ongoing conversations that I have had with people who worked at Apple and some who are still there. As one of my friends told me after reading the article, real leadership has pretty well disappeared in technology firms.
One of the biggest differences that my former colleagues seem to notice is the lack of trust and vision. Current employees are micromanaged to death and all the companies care about is showing a huge quarterly profit.
This vision of Apple seems to be shared by Mathew Yglesias in his Slate article, David Einhron and Apple's Fear of Failure. This quote from the article really hit home for me because it highlights the huge change that I saw at Apple.
So from my view, the problem with Apple's cash is the reverse of Einhorn's. They're not wasting it aggressively enough. The company's fastidious approach means they're not going to blow $40 billion on trying and possibly failing to bring an autonomous car to market. They're not investing in the creation of original programming the way Netflix is. They're not running near-zero profit margins like Amazon. They're just making lots of money, perhaps because Tim Cook watched The Corporation or read an Introduction to Microeconomics textbook and got it into his head that maximizing profits is what companies do. Which is kind of sad. They're obviously really smart people and I bet they could make some cool stuff—and even come up with some plausible-sounding reasons for doing it—if they would just relax a bit.
The changes that have happened at Apple can be summarized as a company that started out trying to change the world by empowering people with technology to a company dedicated to making money by entertaining people.
I certainly do not blame Tim Cook because this really is not his shift. It was the side of Steve Jobs that many have never noticed. When he came back to Apple there were two things that he wanted to prove. One was that he could still create products that could change the world and the other was that he could turn a money losing corporation into the world's greatest cash machine.
Steve accomplished both his goals but like Mathew, I am little sad. Tim Cook is at Apple because he knows how to build very efficient supply chains that make lots of money for a corporation. He is continuing to do what he knows best.
Unfortunately it is not what some of us want to see from Apple. The trust to let employees make mistakes which are actually learning experiences is long gone. The thought to keep moving the technology forward so it makes us more productive has perhaps disappeared. Making something revolutionary has been replaced by making something cool that people will buy just because Apple made it.
Please don't argue with me that iPads make us more productive. iPads and in a sense all tablets are devices to let us consume content not create it. I'll grant that the smart-phone has made a difference in our lives, but it is still not a device I would use to create content.
As Brian Profitt says, Spin All You Like, Tablets Are NOT PCs, Dammit. Unfortunately I suspect that the next productivity advance will come from another company besides Apple.
Certainly making a better TV is not going to do much for me. However, I would settle for just one change from Apple. Could you please just bring back letting the "Escape" key take me back to the library in iPhoto instead of making me push a button in the hopes that I will get the hint and buy an iPad or iPhone so I can be annoyed by iPhoto on a small screen?
You never know which road these revolutions will take, but we can hope. Life and companies are full of surprises. Two months ago who would have guessed that I would get to know Frank, a great egret from Canada?
If you have thoughts on this article, send me a note. I'll be glad to have a civil discussion.