Why doesn’t anybody copy Apple: Where do we focus? Gather marbles, or play the game?

This post is inspired by Horace Deidiu in his recent blog post (Why doesn’t anybody copy Apple?). His provocative question is:

Why is it that everyone wants to copy Apple’s products but nobody wants to copy being Apple?”

He notes that only Apple but Pixar too is an example of an organization that seems to have a “magic” potion to repeatedly create significant business successes.

Horace quotes Tim Cook in a recent interview:

“Innovation is deeply embedded in Apple’s culture. The boldness, the ambition, the belief that there are no limits, the desire among our people to not just make good products [but to] make the very best products in the world. It’s in the values. It’s in the DNA of the company.”

And thirdly, Horace ponders:

I can think of two reasons why:

  1. Apple is not to be imitated because it’s not worth copying. I.e. Apple is not a successful company.
  2. Apple is successful but Apple cannot be copied because its success is a magical process involving sorcery.

This post is a thinking out exercise regarding where we should focus our attention and efforts when engaged in talent management (TM).

I have described TM as: Continuously meeting our timely access and use of talent needs in highly effective business driven ways.

The title in this post asks the question regarding where we should pay the most attention in TM through the playing marbles analogy? Should we focus on the collection of great talent (gathering marbles) or how we derive the most value out of talent use (winning the game)? I see a connection in the way we conventionally do TM to why we are fascinated by Apple yet baffled by it too. I would like to explore what happens if we work backwards (from the end to the beginning).

I have a process view of how we get things done in life: inputs – throughputs – outputs/results – outcomes. I see people (especially myself) focused on different parts of this process in different parts of living. When we love to collect things we are focusing on inputs. When we like to play or while the time away we are focusing on throughputs. When we like to see tasks done and checked off we are focusing on outputs. And when we are looking at the quality of some aspect in our lives we are focused on outcomes. Winning a game is an output/result. The joy, pleasures and rewards of winning are the outcomes.

Why do we do TM? Conventional approaches focus on the effective attraction and retention of needed/desired talent, this I suggest is focusing on inputs: having the resource available and accessible when required. My description of TM focuses on effectiveness, this an outcomes perspective.

So from My TM perspective, how might we begin to copy Apple?

We know from our experience that focus is a prerequisite of high performance. Yet Tim Cook says “there are no limits”? Yet I believe he agrees with the initial proposition about focus. In Apple’s case it is how they focus around products. Yet it not the physical attributes of products that seem to be most important. He goes on to say they desire to make the “very best products”. I see this clarification as profound. the attributes of best in Apple products seems to be around the experiences that customers have with them. Isn’t this an outcomes oriented perspective. So the focus on TM must be about how to bring out the best in the talent so the outcome is a desired customer experience.

So how do we begin to work backwards ( outcomes –> inputs) in our TM task?

I think of experiences as something more than a conventional “what is delivered” (on time, within budget and meeting specs). I would look to incorporate a sense of engagement in those who are part of the task to own whether the experience was delivered. So the outputs of our efforts must include connectedness to the resulting use of experience by customers. As experiences are often emotional in character, we have to embody a parallel experience in the talent involved in delivering on this. This has implications on how we do performance management (PM). The notion of performance excellence must include the users’ experience with ones outputs.

I have describe PM as: The process for leveraging the value of the talent you have access to by enabling excellence to materialize and be sustained.

How do we organize so as to maximize the likelihood of achieving this? Through output focus. For many organizations this is on a product basis. Yet many organizations have product oriented organizations and not in any way be construed as successful as Apple. What does this suggest? I would be inclined to ensure the organization supporting a product focus have a sense of fidelity around always seeing the experience as the point of the matter. What does this imply? Minimizing any internally generated lateral distractions.

Internal distractions? Apple does not organize its product focuses as business units. there is only one P&L perspective. Unless the product is a separate business it seems preferable not to attach the trappings of one onto the efforts and work of those pursuing an output that delivers a desired experience. I think that using this organization principle (what we do and how we do it must always support focus and attention on the experience outcome) can be a useful “touchstone” for assessing any and all organizational processes and activities.

Throughputs are about how we organize and conduct ourselves while turning inputs into outputs. This a sequenced behavioural view of work. Behaviour is about what, when, way and how. The how is about style which leads us to consider values, culture, engagement, mores, and the like. By analogy, this is the lubricant in the machine, this is the cushioned discs in our spines. These are important because not only do they deal with inappropriate “friction” but done astutely, this can also release energy (hence contribution) that would otherwise lay dormant. High performance always involves voluntary efforts being made available. One of the “touchstones” of effective leadership for me is do I observe consistent levels of offers up voluntary efforts.

One of the logical consequences of this line of thinking is around teamwork. As much as I hate the term “synergy”, I do know what I want to create that is similar. Keeping in mind that experience is the mantra. And experiences are going to be as diverse and special as the number of users of our products. We need to find ways of ensuring we can capture this range of diversity in consistently positive experiences as we can. Teamwork is the organizing mechanism we  make use of. This suggests several needed diverse features: types of technical competencies, ways of thinking, ways of experiencing, ways of behaving, ways of communicating, etc. Coupled with is the balance between creative tension and mutual regard/respect. If I share my uniqueness with your uniqueness can we see additional possibilities which neither of us could do on our own?

PM processes are going to have to be similarly focused on the experience rather than on the internal requisites and preferences (which I would [unfairly I know] throw all current HR sponsored and operated schemes – they concern themselves with the internal needs not the customer experience).

Inputs, the point which I converge with the conventional TM perspective. Yet I don’t. Conventional TM defines itself around attraction and retention of great employees. I do not focus just on employment as the singular focus for acquiring access to needed/desired talent. Neither does Apple! Remember, the products that Apple is noted for involve the creative talents of other organizations in its supply chain. Without their contributions there would be nothing particularly notable about Apple. Apple pushes the state-of-the-art in design, parts, manufacturing, etc.all in the name of giving physical presence to the products that can give desired experiences.

TM, if it going to be useful, has to be able to look at how to include the broader network of suppliers and agents that the firm relies on to provide its customers with the products that deliver on the experiential aspirations.

This is my thought experiment.


About 123stilllearning456

As a management consultant I am passionately interested in talent management and risk/uncertainty issues. In the area of talent management I propose that we seek strategies that look beyond the staffing/employee centric frames of reference. I have been frustrated at the "closing down on possibilities" by these more conventional staffing/employee centric approaches. I have been impressed where people have found systematic solutions to their talent management issues by going beyond the conventional approaches. In the area of risk and uncertainty, I am interested in making this topic relevant to more normal decision making situations. My conceptual foundation is to use the micro-economist's fixed/variable cost theme. I also think it is important to look at these issues for people through their emotional and psychological lens. As a premise I think risk and uncertainty only exist where there is a person who cares about possible events and its consequences. Hence, risk and uncertainty are social based concepts (no sentience, no risk and uncertainty). A major influence on my thinking in this area is Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame. This BLOG provides me with an opportunity to express my thoughts on topics that interest me. As this is an online diary, content is more important to me than polish. I apologize if this distracts from readers' enjoyment and learning. Still I find this a useful way to live up to my namesake, learn more from others and hopefully provoke creative thoughts and ideas in others.
This entry was posted in Decison Making, Performance Management, Risk & Uncertainty, Strategy, Talent Manangement, Values and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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