business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The New York Times this morning has a piece by technology columnist Farhad Manjoo in which he writes about Apple, a company that has come in for some criticism lately because it posted a revenue decline for the first time in more than a dozen years.

But I recommend it not because it is about Apple - a company that makes pretty much every technology item that I own - but because it makes a larger and important point about management and leadership.

Manjoo's broad point is that while Apple's approach typically has been to perfectionist in its choice of projects, to say no a thousand times before saying yes, modern challenges may point to a time in which it needs to make bigger, bolder, and faster bets ... taking risks that it traditionally might have avoided.

The current environment - which seems to be dominated more by "data-driven online services" rather than "stand-alone hardware innovations like the iPhone" - may mean that "the slow search for precision and perfection might no longer be in Apple’s best interest," Manjoo writes, adding that CEO Tim Cook's "goal, now, should be to alter Apple’s governing ethos to induce a small measure of chaos into his company."

I think this serves as a good warning for a lot of businesses, especially those that - perhaps even in defiance of their best intentions and efforts - are doing too many things the way they've always done them, for no other reason than they've always done them that way.

(This is not an exaggeration. In recent months, I have sat in on management strategy sessions at several companies during which inefficient and/or ineffective practices have been defended by people using precisely those words.)

"A small measure of chaos."

Those are five very important words, I think. I don't care if you are company the size of Apple, or a small independent retailer with just a couple of stores - it is critical, both in terms of disrupting your business model and challenging the competition, to make bigger, bolder, and faster bets.

(Yesterday's "Innovation Conversation," by the way, dealt with the same subject ... suggesting that companies need to think about investing in outside start-ups that can help them innovate in a way that they cannot on their own.)

Manjoo points out that Amazon’s successful cloud business and its Prime subscription service both "were birthed from a company whose chief executive has embraced risk and failure as a signal measure of corporate health." And he quotes Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos as saying, “I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins ... Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there.”

Bigger, bolder, faster bets. A small measure of chaos. Failure and invention are inseparable twins.

Manjoo's entire piece is worth reading here. But don;t just think of it in terms of Apple. Think about your own business.

It may be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: