Office Harmony Can be a Very Expensive Thing

by Colin Berkshire

Working under Steve Jobs was never an emotionally enjoyable experience. He was critical, demanding, and a perfectionist. More than a few mediocre people left in tears. But Steve didn’t care. He wanted only one thing: superb, superior products.

Today, Apple is a warm fuzzy place to work. The employees are coddled in the most luxurious headquarters building ever constructed. They work in a supportive, inclusive, harmonious environment.

Look at Steve Jobs and you see a driven man who is demanding.

Look at Tim Cook and you find a man who just wants everybody to get along and be great.

The two men were the perfect balance. Steve Jobs was almost unreasonable. He was relentless. He pushed people and technology. Tim Cook got things done and patched relationships up. Tim softened the rough edges of Steve and he accomplished what Steve wanted.

The problem today is that with Tim in charge Apple has become soft. Their products have become non-special. I can’t begin to count the number of bugs in Apple’s macOS product. It is what Bill Gates would call “Death by 1000 cuts.” Windows pop up and steal focus, features don’t work at all, and cosmetics are seen as the answer to dysfunction. (“It doesn’t matter if you can’t read dark blue text on a gray background as long as it looks appealing.”)

I am a passionate Apple user. I loved the Steve Jobs era. Today, I am a bit angry at Apple because they are tolerant of bugs and mediocracy. What especially infuriates me is that when I get an opportunity to talk with an executive at Apple they look at me like I am crazy when I start showing them bug after serious bug. They feel I am attacking the company, rather than trying to help them.

As Apple has driven out troublemakers like myself, as they have suffocated the rebels and the idea people that they used to embrace, and as they have become a political bureaucracy they have lost focus on what made them great, And, they are in decline.

When a company starts to decline it isn’t the moment their stock starts to clip, or the moment that profits drop. Companies have momentum. The rotting from within happens first. Then, it spreads, through arrogance or indifference or a lack of vision. But for a while the company keeps growing because of momentum.

But after a time, the shine on the outside can’t hide the stench of what is happening internally. A dearth of innovation, new products that are nothing but a small increment better than old products, and quality issues are rotten at the core.

Today, really, Apple is like the car industry in the 1950s and 1960s. The tail fins get taller or wider, new colors are introduced, motors get more powerful. But the car industry resisted innovation, they resisted seat-belts, and frankly, their products were unreliable. (Who would ever tell you that a 1960s car was more reliable than today’s?)

So now, look at your own company? Are you fat, complacent, and even arrogant? Or, re you about to set the world on fire with something great?