- Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
Today — March 7, 2012 — is a big news day for Apple Inc., as it introduces the successor to last year’s iPad 2. As is usual with America’s most secretive company — admired and hated, too — it’s a good day to look at a new book by Adam Lashinsky, “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired — and Secretive — Company Really Works” (Business Plus, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, 240 pages, index, $26.99).
In keeping with tradition, the announcement of a new product unveiling was in the form of a teaser, but it’s also in keeping with a tradition that is unique in all of business, it’s big news in the general media as well as the tech one. I heard it on NPR as I was awakening and I looked over at my iPad 2, purchased about six months ago, and wondered how I could be so loyal to a company that enshrines planned obsolence.
Not that I’m going to ditch my sleek beauty for what could be called the iPad 3 or iPad HD, according to CNN a “name that would accentuate its expected high-definition display screen.” I still have a perfectly good iMac that I bought in 2007, along with a MacMini and a MacBook Pro, so I’ve obviously quaffed the Apple Kool-Aid. And I just bought a Smart Cover for the iPad2, which came in packaging only Apple can do, without instructions beyond a few pictures. Naturally, the cover, a genuine Apple product, fits perfectly and works as promised. That’s what Apple is all about. It’s a perfect fit for many people.
Speculation also swirls around the 1 p.m. ET March 7 launch in San Francisco that the newest iteration of the wildly popular iPad — introduced in 2010 — that other features of the upgraded iPad include the addition of Siri, the voice-activated “digital assistant” on the iPhone 4S, “a camera that’s dramatically improved from the less-than-stellar version on the iPad 2 and a quad-core processor better suited to running video games,” according to the CNN report.
To show the real, not-very-nice Steve Jobs, here are two paragraphs from my review of Isaacson’s biography, which is almost three times as long as “Inside Apple”:
“Jobs was often bratty, the kind of guy who believed that rules that everybody else accepted, often grudgingly, didn’t apply to him. For instance, this Mercedes-driving Buddhist refused to put license plates on his car. He said he didn’t want people stalking him, but any stalker could readily spot the Jobs-Mobile because he often parked in handicapped parking spaces, straddling the lines — and it didn’t have license plates, the author writes. If you have to ask what kind of Buddhist drives a Mercedes… you don’t know jack about California.
“Jean-Louis Gassée, Apple’s manager in France, remarked of Jobs: ‘The only way to deal with him was to outbully him….I am a recovering assoholic. So I could recognize that in Steve.’ Gassée was among the few managers on Jobs’s European trip, made around the time of the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, who could stand up to Jobs. Most of the other managers, in Italy and Germany, were shaking uncontrollably after tangling with Jobs, the author says.”
In Chapter 7, “Overwhelm Friends/Dominate Foes”, Lashinsky tells how Apple bullied Cisco Systems to gain rights to use the moniker “iPhone.” Cisco in 2000 had acquired an Israeli company, InfoGear, which had trademarked a product called iPhone in 1996, two years before Apple introduced the “i” system with the iMac in 1998. After threatening to sue Apple, Cisco was bullied into giving up, allowing Apple to use a name that another company originated. Read Pages137 to 141 and ponder what would Apple do if Cisco and InfoGear decided to use a name Apple had trademarked.
Corporate shrinks like Michael Maccoby have a name for Steve Jobs (hint: it’s not “asshole” as many had called him): “Productive narcissist.” Analyzing the rise of Tim Cook, a graduate of Auburn University, with an MBA from Duke University (Jobs was a college drop-out from Reed College in Portland, OR), Maccoby on Page 92 is quoted by Lashinsky: “Many narcissists can develop a close relationship with one person, a sidekick who acts as an anchor, keeping the narcissistic partner grounded. However, given that narcissistic leaders trust only their own insights and view of reality, the sidekick has to understand the narcississtic leader and what he is trying to achieve. The narcissist must feel that this person, or in some cases persons, is practically an extension of himself. The sidekick must also be sensitive enough to manage the relationship.”
Lashinsky seemed to know this instinctively; the Chicago-born journalist (for many decades, going back to people like Mike Royko and Bob Woodward, some of the best journalists have been products of Chicagoland) predicted in 2008 in a cover story for Fortune predicted that the then unknown Tim Cook would eventually succeed Steve Jobs as CEO.
Lashinsky, in a primer to leadership and innovation that could benefit business school students or anyone interested in what makes corporations tick (or not), introduces readers to concepts like the “DRI” — Apple’s practice of assigning a Directly Responsible Individual to every task — and the Top 100 — an annual corporate retreat ritual in which 100 up-and-coming executives met with company founder Steve Jobs. I have a feeling that former IBMer Cook may try a different, perhaps more egalitarian, collegial approach, but with Apple, who knows.
Where Jobs was mercurial, Cook was calm, the author says. Jobs was the “epitome of right-brain vision, Cook the embodiment of left-brain efficiency. Jobs bore the exotic Middle Eastern hues of his biological father and a kinetic aura that excited those around him. Cook is the prototypical Southerner, square-jawed, broad-shouldered, pale-skinned, with graying hair and an overall blandness to his appearance and demeanor.” Wow! What other company prompts journalists and others to dig so deeply into the personalities on parade? I can’t think of any. You have to go back to John DeLorean, Lee Iacocca and Bob Lutz — car guys all — to see such a dissection.
Lashinsky doesn’t know if the Apple innovation system is applicable to other industries or if it’s unique to the Cupertino, CA-based firm. He writes that other creative firms — Polaroid, Disney, to cite two examples — had periods of success, followed by a decline (in the case of Polaroid, going out of business). Disney recovered only with the help of Pixar, a company Jobs sold to Disney. I would add Eastman Kodak to this list, an innovative company in the 19th century (with the introduction of photographic roll film) that failed to keep up with technology and is now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Xerox could have been a contender, too; after all its PARC division developed the graphical user interface that Jobs and Wozniak borrowed (stole?) for the first Macintosh in 1984.
I personally believe Apple will succeed, if only because it makes products that consumers lust after. I don’t lust after anything made by Brother, HP, Dell, IBM, but I find my Apple products do the job, with minimal hassles, looking sleek and pretty. We devotees of Apple have been called tech snobs, among other even less complimentary names, but we can live with it — as long as our tech toys are at hand!
About the Author
Adam Lashinsky is a Senior Editor At Large for Fortune Magazine, where he covers technology and finance. He is also a Fox News contributor and frequent speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Fortune, Lashinsky was a columnist for TheStreet.com and the San Jose Mercury News. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and daughter.
Publisher’s website: www.HachetteBookGroup.com