The Problem with Operations People

by Colin Berkshire

It’s hard to understand something you don’t understand.

When I watch Cirque du Soleil live it looks so effortless. I have had the opportunity to talk with Cirque performers and have come to realize how much work and talent it takes. I was speaking with a contortionist and I asked: “What is the secret to doing that without feeling pain?” The answer stunned me: “The secret is to not show the pain.” Aah.

I am so saddened to see the steady decline of Apple. Their products used to “just work.” They used too have immensely obvious, creative solutions to things. The latest MacOS Sierra 10.12.1 (whew!) is the buggiest release I have ever experienced from any Apple product. My iPhone 7 plus is a sleek package of buyer’s remorse. My brand new MacBook Pro is a full generation of Intel products behind, and I cannot upgrade the memory because of its planned obsolescence soldered in RAM.

Apple is certainly a happier place to work than when under Jobs. I think we see that you can’t have drive and contentment concurrently. The newer employees at Apple feel perfectly comfortable despite things not working quite so well. When I complain about broken internal systems I get this look like: “Just go drink the magic water and come back in 30 minutes.”

I was speaking with one of the staff in Tim Cook’s executive office and I expressed my displeasure with Apple. Perhaps somewhat untactfully I mentioned that my iPhone 7 plus constantly drops calls on Verizon while my iPhone 6 plus never did. I mentioned that technical support can’t fix a networking bug in MacOS. The response was standard bureaucratic politically correct speak for “we are all passionate about Apple, but nobody can do anything anymore.”

It was then that I realized that the problem started at the top. Tim Cook is a brilliant operations man. Just brilliant. But operations people don’t understand what they don’t understand. They just lack the ability to see and tap into creativity. It’s something inherent about the way they think. They just can’t think to peek over the wall and envision something different. Tim Cook, like Steve Ballmer, is shackled with an MBA where he was taught on how to extract value but not to create it.

I gently brought up that perhaps Apple would benefit from a little more creativity, that I felt they were missing so many opportunities. The response was to go look at the new Apple Watch 2 and the new jet black iPhone. I realized, they just didn’t get it.

So I got pointed…

Why can’t I use my iPad as a second display for my MacBook pro? Why can’t the screen of my MacBook pro lift off and become an iPad? Why don’t the configured toolbar buttons for Pages, Numbers, and email sync up and be the same on all of my devices (when I change a toolbar button on my desktop why can’t it change on my laptop?) Why can’t I use my iPad to access my home office computer when I am traveling? Why can’t I share my iPad screen with a nearby iPad user so we can collaborate?

My rant was interrupted with: “Here at Apple we have many very smart people and I am sure they are working on many of those things and more” I was patronizingly told. I realized this was probably true. And, I also realized that none of it would see the light of day for the same reason that Apple’s new laptops are a generation behind the times. Operations people just count SKUs and resist change.

I miss Apple.