Apple drives me crazy.
What I Believe - And Why Apple Makes Me Wrong:
Talent is Overrated: Yes, leadership matters. But I've come to believe that leadership matters in very specific ways, and that the real strength of a company or a university comes from the full range of people employed by the firm or institution. Leaders need to provide an overall goal that everyone else, including employees and customers, can believe in and get behind. This goal needs to be big enough and audacious enough to be worth taking risks to achieve, worth sacrificing for, worth investing in. But Steve Jobs not only set big goals (simple and gorgeous devices, software and services etc.), he seems to have personally participated in design decisions and partner negotiations. From what I read, it is Steve Jobs who was able to negotiate with the record and film industries to create iTunes, and it was Steve Jobs who relentlessly pushed for (and edited) products from the iPhone to he iPad to the MacBook Air.
Micromanagement and Management by Fear are Bad: The truth is, we really don't know what life at Cupertino was like under Jobs as CEO. Maybe the stories of Jobs' temper, or his controlling every detail of major product design and product launches, are overstated. Perhaps Jobs encouraged argument and debate, and the people who worked at Apple with Jobs felt free to debate and disagree with the boss. What do you think?
Markets Are Conversations: The idea is that we don't just buy products, we invest in relationships. We will not purchase products or services from a company that we don't trust. We are no longer blind consumers, easily influenced by mass marketing. Rather, we are empowered users, and we like to do business with companies that listen to our needs and authentically engage us on many levels. Perhaps you have had a meaningful (strategic) conversation with someone from Apple outside of the Genius Bar, (again - I'm excluding campus reps who are awesome but not involved in developing products or services), with Apple I'm left still talking to myself.
Open Over Proprietary: The web is all about open standards. All things being equal, we'd rather invest in open source applications and open source platforms, investing our resources in people rather than licensing. But I'm writing this on a MacBook Pro running 10.6.8 (not Linux), and with an iPhone in my pocket (closed OS). Mobile web apps might be great, but can they really compete with the apps designed for iOS on the App store?
Transparency is Essential: I'm constantly arguing for greater transparency in the projects that I'm involved with. Put up the project documents on the web. Blog or tweet about the process. Talk about what did not work as well as what did. Yet Apple remains the opposite of transparent, a black hole of information.
Fail Fast and Often: Sure, Apple has some failures. The Apple TV, the Lisa from 1983 ($10,000), the hockey puck mouse, the Power Mac G4 Cube (2000), Ping. All of these seem like small change however, products that Jobs and company never really got behind. Maybe Apple learned from Motorola ROKR "iTunes" phone (2005), and definitely from the failure of MobileMe, but success after success seems to best characterize the history of Apple's product launches.
I would never want to run a company (or a university) the way Apple has been run. Apple's management culture, at least from the outside, goes totally against my (academic) values. Yet, it is hard to argue with the results.