So, Apple, How Do You Avoid Corporate Hubris?

Illustration for article titled So, Apple, How Do You Avoid Corporate Hubris?

During a Goldman Sachs tech conference today, Apple COO Tim Cook revealed Apple's secret to success: High standards, and a low tolerance for half-assed proposals. Except, that wasn't the question.


Tim was responding to a question about complacency and hubris—specifically, how a company that's been right on so many big issues can avoid it, and stay clearheaded. Said Tim:

Yeah, that is a great question. The executive team of the company spends a lot of time thinking and discussing how to retain and recruit the best talent in the world, because at the end of the day—I know it's a cliche—but people are our most important asset by far, and it's people that deliver innovation, which is key to us. And so what else do we do other than that? Well, we are the most focused company that I know of, or have read of, or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day; we say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number, so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose, so that we can deliver the best products in the world. In fact, the table that each of you are sitting at today, you could probably put every product on it that Apple makes, and yet Apple's revenue last year was over $40bn. I think the only other company that could say that is an oil company.

And that is not from just saying "yes" to the right product which gets a lot of focus—it's saying no to many products that are good ideas, but just not nearly as good as the other ones. I think that this is so ingrained in our company that this hubris that you talk about, that happens to companies that are successful but then decide that their sole role in life is to get bigger, and they start adding this and that and this and that, I can tell you the management team of Apple would never let that happen. That's not what we're about. So, focus on people, and ensuring that it's a small list of things to work on and putting all of our wood behind those things, that's the magic behind us.

Question: How do you avoid hubris, Apple?


"Hubris is good."

— Tim Cook, updating Gordon Gecko.

Steve Jobs is arrogant. If he doesn't like it, it doesn't happen. The company is focused because at the end of the day it's one guy's priorities that are driving the bus, not a bunch of committees.

The companies that get unfocused are the ones whose executive suites are filled with a bunch of voices pulling the company in many directions at once (which usually causes bad execution on multiple fronts).

I just don't see that happening with a Steve Jobs in the room.