Those who are biblically literate know that Genesis doesn’t say what kind of fruit Adam and Eve ate. No matter. Centuries of artists have known it was an apple. An apple with a bite out of it. Thus evil entered the world.

So the recent Wired Magazine article by Leander Kahney should come as no surprise.

Everybody is familiar with Google’s famous catchphrase, “Don’t be evil.” It has become a shorthand mission statement for Silicon Valley, encompassing a variety of ideals: . . . Embrace open platforms. Trust decisions to the crowds. Treat your employees like gods. It’s ironic, then, that one of the Valley’s most successful companies ignored all of these tenets. . . . Apple operates with a level of secrecy that makes Thomas Pynchon look like Paris Hilton. It locks consumers into a proprietary ecosystem. And as for treating employees like gods? Yeah, Apple doesn’t do that either.

[Apple head Steve] Jobs . . . is a notorious micromanager. No product escapes [Apple headquarters in] Cupertino without meeting Jobs’ exacting standards, which are said to cover such esoteric details as the number of screws on the bottom of a laptop and the curve of a monitor’s corners.

At most companies, the red-faced, tyrannical boss is an outdated archetype, a caricature from the life of Dagwood. Not at Apple. . . . Apple’s successes in the years since Jobs’ return [in 1997] — iMac, iPod, iPhone — suggest an alternate vision to the worker-is-always-right school of management. . . . A Silicon Valley insider once told Sutton that he had seen Jobs demean many people and make some of them cry. But, the insider added, “He was almost always right.”

I confess that since I have turned into an old-fashioned so and so, this style of leadership sounds incredibly appealing. After all, I am brilliant and I am always right (almost).

One problem for Apple, of course, is, What happens when Jobs leaves? We actually already know the answer to that question because we know what happened to Apple when Jobs left the first time in 1985. It nearly died.

Jobs is a classic Level 4 Leader, which Jim Collins describes as someone who “catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards.” He may be Level 4 on steroids.

Level 4 leaders are unable to transfer their vision and ability to others. Success for the organization is dependent on them personally. When they go, success goes. Level 5 Leaders paradoxically combine professional will with personal humility in a way that allows their ambition for the organization (not for themselves) to thrive after they leave.

I must say, however, that apple looks very tempting.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

2 thoughts on “Evil/Genius”

  1. Fast Company recently named Google the most innovative company of the year, and their profile made an interesting observation about the differences between Google and Apple. Apple has great design and carefully rolls out marquee items (iPhone, iPod, etc.). Google, on the other hand, constantly innovates and isn’t afraid to launch things that are still in process. If it doesn’t work right, they continually revise and fix things. Google has created a culture of entrepreneurial innovation and creativity, while Apple tends to go for the iconic, perfect accomplishments. (Even the namesake apple concept/logo is itself symbolic and iconic.)

    While I admire Apple, I’ve never owned a Mac or any Apple product. But I use Google every day.

  2. Level 4 leader? Andy? God help us all!

    (Oh great boss, you can either interpret that to mean [A] please don’t let Andy pick up a Level 4 leadership style, or [B] please don’t let Level-4-leader Andy retire or the whole company will go downhill! . . . whichever one helps me keep my job is what I meant!)

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