4 Examples Of Innovative Companies That Work And 1 Example That Doesn’t (Part IV)

innovative companies

Read Part I here, Part II here, and Part III here.


Apple is an anomaly on this list. While Apple has made the Boston Consulting Group's list of the most innovative companies for the past 14 years, it does not embody the elements of the Engineer's Mindset, nor does it display human leadership. Even though Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, is an engineer, he operates Apple in a culture designed for a visionary. Kantrowitz demonstrates that at Apple, "Democratic invention is rarely encouraged, people and ideas are constrained by hierarchy, and collaboration is held back by secrecy." On top of it, Apple's internal technology is outdated and years behind its competitors.

When Steve Jobs was alive, he would develop new ideas and have the rest of the company refine them. He was responsible for idea work, and everyone else was responsible for execution work. "There was one visionary and one dictator," Kantrowitz notes a former Apple employee saying. "The dictator was in charge. He had a lot of ideas. He was very dynamic and full of energy. He was leading the troops on visions he had for the company and for the products. He thought he knew more than anybody else what the products should be and how people should use them. Because of all that, because of the charisma he brought with him, people followed."

Today, Apple still prioritizes execution, and ideas come from the top. The company continues to refine the two products that Jobs helped to invent: iPhone and the Mac. However, Apple has not been as successful at inventing new products. It tried with HomePod, but the product was a failure. Apple has been working on building its own autonomous car, but the development is not going well by all the reports. Kantrowitz argues that "Apple's refinement culture, a relic of the Jobs era, is to blame."

Without Jobs, Apple has six executives to deliver ideas for the rest of the company to execute. While at Amazon, Facebook, and Google, engineers are treated like royalty, at Apple, designers have the power. They are involved in the projects from start to finish and dictate the products' look and feel regardless of how difficult the design might be to execute technically.

Apple's executives distance themselves from the company's rank and file without offering any channels to deliver feedback or product ideas. "Apple's product development itself takes place in extreme secrecy, and even the company's own employees are largely kept in the dark," describes Kantrowitz. Apple's employees are prohibited from talking about their projects, even with their family and friends.

That kind of secrecy might have helped Apple's products become the most desired ones in the world, but the refinement culture no longer guarantees future success and path to growth. Such a culture was created for a visionary-led company. That era is now gone. Today, its culture inhibits inventiveness, and even Steve Wozniak commented that to make Apple more inventive, Apple's leadership should "Let the lower-level managers make the decisions. More responsibility to the lower levels."

Part V to follow…

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