Four things Apple’s slow slide teaches us about business strategy

From a quick dipstick I did last week, I’d guess a good chunk of my readers use a Macbook, and even more use an iPhone. I think it’s fair to say: Most of us are Apple fans.

So, it’s concerning to see the company meandering over the last few years. Lackluster product launches, even more lackluster products. Even Siri seems dumb now.

 

Is Apple losing the plot?

Smart folks are really worried about Apple.

apple-slow-slide

Apple’s slow slide illustrates four key principles of business strategy:

1. The S-Curve of Company Growth: Any successful company inevitably goes through a life-cycle of stuttering beginnings, rapid growth, and then gentle maturation – an S-curve. This has been true both in the Internet era and before, as Ben Evans illustrates in The best is the last. Apple is no different. Apple may be the next Microsoft.

 

2. Limited Window of Optionality: There is a way to prolong your growth arc, though. Keep transforming your business, when your previous product is succeeding, and the wind is at your back. Jobs leveraged this limited window of optionality successfully, with the iPod, then the iPhone, and then the iPad. Larry Ellison did it at Oracle too.

But Tim Cook hasn’t been able to lead such pivots at all.

Why?

 

3. The Visionary Leader – Executor Follower Conundrum: Steve Jobs was a visionary (duh). And he built a strong team of executors around him, to implement his vision. So, guess who succeeded him? A superb executor, but short on vision. Tim Cook is great at delivering on an existing strategy, but he just hasn’t kept pace with a fast-changing world.

[The similarity with Microsoft shows here too. It’s the same reason Bill Gates chose Steve Ballmer as his successor. With similar effects.]

 

4. The Jobs-to-be-done Framework: There’s another interpretation of Tim Cook’s non-success. And it comes from Clayton Christensen’s second big theory – jobs-to-be-done. As he says, consumers buy products that complete specific jobs for them.

“People don’t buy quarter-inch drills, they buy quarter-inch holes.”

The job-to-be-done is quite clear with the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad. But Apple is struggling to find jobs for the Apple Watch and Apple Pay.

 

So, plenty of problems for Tim Cook. But maybe, just maybe, we’re all wrong about this and a major pivot is coming.

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