Trying to maximize short term profits turned a company founded on selling the future into a company making so many competing products that it had no idea what the future looked like. Steve Jobs came back and turned the company around by creating a future that few people including the numbers guys believed to be possible.
Today's Apple is being run by a numbers guy who is once again trying to maximize short term profit, but this article is not about Tim Cook whom I do credit with being one of the three people who helped to save Apple back in nineties.
I think an obsession with numbers and trying to quantity decisions only on numbers is an affliction that hurts our country in many ways. Our country much like Apple in the nineties is so concerned with numbers that we cannot see the future. One of the problems that Apple faced in the nineties was Steve Jobs would not sign off on a product until the very last minute. That often meant paying for air frieght to arrive in time for an already scheduled product launch instead of using much less expensive shipments by boat. The cost of those last minute design decisions was impressive, but I believe they helped build Apple's reputation for innovative design.
If you look back at some of the great investments in the future like the Interstate Highway System, rural electrification, or the space race, at the time these causes were championed, it would have been hard to justify them on pure numbers. Just like Apple's turnaround, the real key was vision and the belief that the best way to have control of your future is to build it yourself and not let others dictate your decisions.
Much of the policy focus in the United States has been on trying to come to deals which will shrink our deficit. Yet the truth is that the deficit has been shrinking for a number of reasons, and if we really want to improve the lot of the majority of the middle class in the United States, we need to make more investments in our future not less.
What do you suppose would have happened to Apple if Steve Jobs had come back and looked at the product line and decided that there were already plenty of products and the company just needed to cut a few of those and focus on what the company already had instead of building new products for the future? There is no doubt that Apple would have gone out of business without the iMac, OS X, and eventually the iPod.
This is obviously a problem at many levels of government. However, there are plenty of people who believe government has no role in success of private enterprise and if you are one of those, I suggest you read this article, 'The Entrepreneurial State': Apple Didn't Build Your iPhone; Your Taxes Did.
I feel that even our local governments have a huge role to play in our future. Many of us in technology believe that providing super-fast big broadband connections to attract new and innovative companies is key to building our future.
Towns like Wilson, North Carolina, might well be showing us the way to the future. Wilson's Greenlight Internet service is bringing Google fiber like speeds to a town of under 50,000 people. The super-fast connectivity is drawing new companies to Wilson much like nDanville brought a supercomputer to Danville, Virginia, which had been hard hit by the changing economy. While I do work for WideOpen Networks which was involved in the Danville project, I passionately believe that one of the ways to the future is big broadband. Communities can try to create their own future or sit back and take what the future offers them. I know which way Steve Jobs would pick.
I am troubled by North Carolina's legislature falling victim to intense lobbying by Time Warner and making it very hard for other towns to follow Wilson's lead.
The impact of an obsession with numbers goes far beyond government. All you have to do is look at today's banks. All they care about are the numbers. Long gone are the days exemplified by Jimmy Stewart's, It's A Wonderful Life. It is interesting that banks focus on earnings history and almost never on potential earnings unless you are a doctor.
I wonder how different our future might be if our banks and governments were truly willing to invest in the future and not let the past and its numbers hold them hostage?
Actually I am willing to bet we could have a very bright future. If I had chosen to run my future just by the numbers, I would have probably turned down my original job offer from Apple which was for less money than I was making at the time. Fortunately I believed that the future was going to be defined by more than just the immediate numbers that I could read in a job offer.