From “beleaguered” to “secretive”: how the tech media distorts how Apple operates. But substitute one other word, and you’ll “get” how Apple really operates

When I’m not giving workshops on presentation skills, or on IT for health professionals, I’m working one on one with patients who wish to better manage certain unwanted behaviours and feelings. The bread and butter work for clinical psychologists in private practice, as I am, are the anxiety and depression or mood disorders.

The methods for change most found to be evidence based are those which feature “doing things differently” based on “thinking differently“.
Apple, in one of its most successful advertising campaigns which commenced soon after Steve Jobs’ return to the company he founded, used the phrase “Think Different” in an effort to suggest the Macintosh was not a Windows PC. And that its user base thought – and behaved – differently when compared to those who use Windows.
Returning to the evidence of what works in therapy, there are two factors for how my reading of the scholarly literature informs the way I work:
1. Develop a therapeutic alliance so patients come to therapy hopeful change is possible, even when the going gets tough, because the therapist has trust in their abilities and theories of change, mixed with interpersonal qualities such as respect, genuineness, warmth, and empathy.
2. Giving time and effort to the centrality of helping patients shift their thinking from reflexively negative to a more “can do”  estimation of current and future activities, by a process of reappraising their beliefs and experiences. Changed thinking is consolidated by behaviours practised as if those thoughts were true, rather than waiting for enough evidence to become convinced of their veracity. In other words, it’s OK to think and act differently even when it doesn’t feel right. That comes later.
In effect, words are important!
There was a time before Apple’s resurgence, slowly starting with the release of the iPod in 2001, then building quickly with the release of the iPhone in 2007, when the word – an adjective – most often found expressed of Apple in the technology press was “beleaguered”. Apple had been against the wall, with many continuing to assert that without Microsoft’s financial input Apple was doomed. It remains a false assertion, but the tech world has moved on since that time and new words and sentiments have emerged.
The word “beleaguered” is now being applied to other tech companies, whom some pundits previously expected would put Apple out of business. It still gets occasionally trotted out but no longer about Apple’s survival, but its management of the contemporary challenges it faces, such as its manufacturing base in China or the competition from Samsung or the way the media writes about Apple and its “dire need” to bring to us the next big thing.
In fact, in more recent times, with Apple’s share price seemingly in freefall even while its profits are in ascendancy,  the word that now most often precedes the mention of Apple in the tech press is “secretive”.
A Google search of the phrase “secretive Apple” reveals at the time of writing more than two million results.
The notion that of all tech companies, Apple is the most secretive has been seen as praiseworthy by some, and an extension of its founders’ paranoia by others. The culture the latter leads to has been said to possess poor morale, loss of hunger to innovate, playing it safe, and disrupting Apple’s entry into the enterprise considered by those who see a lack of transparency and public roadmapping as suicidal.
Let’s have a look at some of the quotes from the Google results to place Apple’s “secrecy” into a variety of contexts:
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There are dozens upon dozens of Google result pages similar to these, often repeating the same stories but on different sites.
Just a few more:
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The essence is much the same: Apple’s secrecy is costly to the company and its employees.
Now, choose anyone of these results and when you see the word “secretive” used as an adjective, change it to this one word:
PATIENT.
Here’s how Apple’s built-in Dictionary app defines “patient” (click to enlarge):
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Now look to the Thesaurus offering which is even more pertinent, using words like “uncomplaining, tolerant, long-suffering, stoical….
Secretive might be the word that most describes Apple’s “personality” for those whose job is perceived to be the liberation of secrets – to be the first with a breaking news story or to share a trade secret with Apple’s competitors for commercial advantage.
But to those of us who have watched Apple over the years as it’s transformed from the late 1970s highly successful start-up through to mid-1990s beleaguered, through to now being pilloried for its “secrecy, we have adapted to reaping the rewards of Apple’s patience with great products and services. (albeit with the yet to be explained blind-spot of cloud and social media services)
Apple’s patience can best be summarised with this quote of Steve Jobs whose personality and preferences I believe still pervade how Apple operates, for better or for worse:
“And it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important.” ~ Business Week, October 12, 2004
When you say NO rather than rush to manufacture with a collection of YESs or “why not – someone will find a use for it” you end up with a compromised product, whose codename might as well be BLUNDERBUSS.
I expect Apple followers who understand Apple the way I have described it here will be well-rewarded for their patience later in the year. It’s “wait and see” pie time. Or if that is not your preferred food of delayed gratification, try marshmallows.
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