Apple and Google, Authentic?

I have been reluctant to judge more controversial businesses as being authentic for a long time, but this week I want to argue the case for the authenticity of Apple and Google.  If this is controversial then, perhaps, we will get a bit of discussion going through the comments on the blog.

Part of my intention has always been to demonstrate that authentic business and authentic leadership are simply better ways of doing business than the more conventional ways.  Better for employees, better for customers and better for business.

Google and Apple are two of the most successful business of our time.  When Steve Jobs announced his resignation as CEO, Apple was the largest company by market value.

But are they Authentic?

Firstly, authenticity is personal, it is what someone is genuinely passionate about and it may not be the same thing that you are genuinely passionate about.  Are the influencers at Apple genuinely passionate about making the most useable technology products? Unquestionably yes.  Are the influencers at Google passionate about search and making the worlds knowledge available and accessible?  Again, unquestionably yes.

Secondly, do Google and Apple generate their profits as a by product of the pursuit of their respective purpose?  Again, I would say yes.  If you look at the history of both companies they are littered with examples of times when they have gone against the wishes of the financial community in the pursuit of their purpose.  Google continue to invest in extraordinary projects to make the worlds knowledge accessible.  Driving Street View in to the Amazon would appear to have marginal financial returns, but does make another bit of knowledge more accessible than before.  Reportedly Apple have a cash pile of around $78 billion and growing.  The financial community would love to see them spend some of that cash on buying up other companies, but Apple refuses.  Apple never makes large acquisitions that could impact the culture negatively, they only occasionally make carefully targeted small acquisitions, that can help them fulfill their purpose.

Thirdly, don’t believe a lot of the negative stuff that you read.  Much of the analysis of both companies comes from a business media perspective that is dominated by the more conventional profit driven approach.  When you come from this approach, it is impossible to see a different one.  When these journalists and analysts look at Apple and Google they are looking through the same lens they use to evaluate Exxon and News Corp.  Additionally, both companies do things that are controversial, as Steve Jobs has said, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time”, especially when you are that big.  Apple’s manufacturing in China and Googles digitizing of books are examples, but these stories are also spun up by their many business rivals who are flummoxed by trying to compete with the power of authenticity.

For me, these businesses are clearly authentic and inspiring examples of the commercial benefits of authenticity.  How can other businesses learn from them?

1 – Focus – be really clear what you want to achieve, what you have a whole-hearted energy for.  Articulate it clearly and find collaborators with whom you are aligned.

2 – With the end in mind, define a culture to deliver it and hire brilliant, world class people, aligned with your purpose to deliver it.  Never compromise the culture, it is what defines the brand and the authenticity of the business.  Google have a super selective hiring process with every new hire still being signed off by founder Larry Page.  Culture is defined by the people you hire, if someone does not fit, they need to move on for everyones sake.

3 – Apply good business discipline well.  Authenticity is not a get out of jail free card.  If you spend more than you earn you will go bust, authentic or not.  Make something that is truly valuable for your customers and the world, make it with passion.  The more value you can create for your customers, the more profit you will be able to create from it.

4 – Sweat the details.  It is really, really worth getting things right.  It can be attractive to just get things out, but mistakes are expensive in cash and brand terms.  The less you make the more successful you will be.

We are applying all of these principles to setting up Civilised Money.  Our vision is to create a new type of financial services company, which generates profits through enriching people.  We are authentically focussed on this vision as the greatest service we (the founders) can provide to society.  We have defined the culture we believe is best suited to achieving this vision and are hiring world class people to help us deliver it.  Although our model is unconventional our business discipline will be tight and that will help us deliver outstanding value to customers and significant profits.  Although it can feel slow, we are thinking through the details carefully to avoid compromises and mistakes.

We can all do this, whatever the scale of our business and whatever our line of business, with a few exceptions, it is more how we do it than what we do.  Equally it can also be applied to existing businesses – Steve Jobs did it when he came back to Apple – it is not easy, but it is definitely worth it.

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With love

nx

Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
neil@neilcrofts.com
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Skype – neilcrofts

 

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About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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12 Responses to Apple and Google, Authentic?

  1. Steve Prior says:

    Hi Neil

    How exactly could we define Authentic? I suspect it can be looked at from many different angles.

    At least one of these apparent paragons of virtue has blotted their copy book on more than one occasion especially if we use the measure of integrity.

    There is always going to be an issue when the profit motive is in play and these companies are no different from many although I would agree they are not Exxon or News Corp.

    Apple was the company that said there was no issue with the latest iPhone dropping calls and even suggested that users hold it differently. It was only after much adverse publicity did they issue a fix and gave everyone a wrap around case that helped their users keep their conversations going.

    Google are a middleman who has a massive influence on what search results to present to it’s users. It has used it’s dominance and power to systematically scrape publishers sites and feed it’s search users with sites that it has bought so it can increase it’s profitability. One minute it allows marketers to use Adwords in a certain way and then it changes it’s T’s and C’s and cans the lot of them… But only when it suits Google, it has not a lot to do with providing searchers with good information and everything to provide information that Google has decided is good.

    One of the unfortunate by products of a capitalist system based on profit is that companies can and do manipulate structures to feather their own nest. The system is designed that way.

    There’s an interesting book called Drive by Daniel Pink who discusses the surprising truth of what motivates us. Given half a chance I think we will find that Authentic people would prefer to be authentic but can’t because of the profit motive.

    I used to believe that marketing was the holy grail at least until I stripped away layer after layer and got deeper into asking the question why.

    What we are left with is a broken capitalist system that can only really work on consumption. It matters not one scrap whether it’s Exxon, News of the World, Apple or Google, we must consume in greater quantities.

    Google started out by wanting to give it’s users the best experience and search results but that was before Venture Capital got involved.

    The end result is sub optimised results but the tragedy is that it’s common users won’t even know, because it is now so ubiquitous.

    Regards

    Steve

    • Neil Crofts says:

      For me the definition is this; Do the key influencers in the business know who they truly are as people and do they live it without fear or compromise in all situations?

      In both cases I would say this is totally true for Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Sergey Brin from all of the information I have seen. I would also say that they empower their employees to do this as well – which fits my definition of Authentic Leadership.

      The second part of the definition is – do they generate their profits through the pursuit of a profound and positive purpose. Again I would say the answer is yes.

      Sure they will do things that upset some people, but that is inevitable. They are also bound to make mistakes – there are few who don’t.

      There have been a lot of negative stories about Google, some of which is legitimate, some is people who have been out evolved griping about unfair competition.

      On the whole, I believe their motives are still good.

      Incidentally – I think the profit motive you speak of has far less to do with the ethics of business than the debt motive and equity systems. What allows both Apple and Google to be as authentic as they are is that they have no debt, still hold significant equity and are successful. If any one of those were not true their authenticity would be far harder to maintain.

  2. Steve Prior says:

    Hi Neil

    Thanks for responding

    My assumption in your point about key influencers knowing who they really are is that these key influencers are somehow defined as good people. I’m pretty certain that certain heads of Enron were authentic and without fear or compromise, I somehow suspect that they may not be on everyone’s Xmas card list though.

    Based on what I have heard and read about Apple and Google is that they do empower their employees.

    To be fair to Apple, I don’t know them well enough to ask profound questions. I’m not certain what errors of judgement or mistakes we deem as a society as being okay but the motive of profit can and does get in the way.

    My point here is that a company can’t have two agendas of equal weight, it’s impossible to aim for the best service and deliver the most profit. One has to usurp the other, one has to have the bigger weighting.

    Google though is in a fabulously powerful position and it got that way through Venture Capital. The middleman starts with not owning any assets but they control those assets (content and search results). They are now buying up content themselves and monetising it using the fabulous wealth they got from advertisers who are now banned.

    Like it or not, they have changed the rules on more than one occasion and they did it at the point of suiting them. As a by the way comment, Google and I do have a commercial relationship and it has so far worked out okay.

    Perhaps Google’s engineers didn’t realise they were capturing individuals WiFi signals with their Street Address system and perhaps they didn’t realise that changing their T’s and C’s without telling their clients was an okay thing to do. It certainly curtailed advertisers earnings and quickly killed off some authentic businesses based purely on Google’s judgement.

    There are a lot of stories about Apple and Google, I think the real and hardest thing to do is one’s own research and find out what is real and what is not.

    I would agree that creating profits without debt is likely to be positive and provide for more authenticity but this doesn’t stop the profit agenda getting in the way of a more authentic life.

    Regards

    Steve

  3. Peter Rouse says:

    Thanks for your post Neil. I am reading the Philip Shepherd book ‘New Self. New World’ and Shepherd quotes extensively from Joseph Campbell. Your post helped me remember some notes I made of what Campbell had to say in relation to the story of the Holy Grail in his interviews with Bill Moyers shortly before Campbell died.
    “The Grail represents that which is attained and realised by people who have lived their own lives….Nature intends the Grail…Spiritual life is the bouquet of natural life, not a supernatural thing imposed on it. And so the impulses of Nature are what give authenticity to life, not obeying orders from a supernatural authority….The Grail becomes symbolic of an authentic life lived in terms of its own volition, in terms of its own impulse system which carries it between the pairs of opposites of good and evil, light and dark…In Wolfram’s version he begins with a poem that says that every act in life yields pairs of oppositesin its results…the best we can do is to lean toward the light, intend the light…the light is the harmonious relationship that comes from compassion with suffering and understanding of the other person.”
    Campbell acknowledged that there will be good (for some) and bad (for some) consequences of actions and that all can hope to do is to ‘lean towards the good’.

  4. Robert says:

    It’s impossible for a large business to be authentic in a today’s capitalist world. Simply because the way ownership of capitalist companies is set up they must keep growing and the organic ‘living’ entity (or energy) that are called Google or Apple have it in their ‘DNA’ (as they are children of the capitalist system) to want to grow and make profit in order to satisfy their owners, impress their peers and survive.

    In the capitalist system it’s grow or wither and die.

    This growth is however in a macro cumulative way is unsustainable. I don’t see Apple or Google having even a tiny wish to redress this imbalance, in fact they are taking as much advantage as possible of this unsustainability while they still can to maximise their size and profit and influence.

    My definition of an authentic business would be one which trades in goods, services or information which enrich humanity and help it evolve to a higher vibration.

    To get down to slightly less high-faluting principles – an iPhone will ‘fry’ your brain, Apple take out vague patents then sue anybody who makes a product remotely similar to theirs and has a completely closed ecosystem for their software products.

    Google store private information on every search done by every person, traceable by IP address, for at least three years, hand this information over to law enforcement agencies at the drop of a hat and manipulate their search results accordingly.

    • Neil Crofts says:

      Thank you Robert – I think we need to remember that authenticity is a personal thing – one persons authenticity is not the same as another. There is nothing fundamentally inauthentic about growth, profit or capitalism. These things only become inauthentic when they are applied psychopathically – which is not uncommon.
      My experience is that both Apple and Google have done a huge amount to enrich humanity – I think by that definition they would absolutely qualify as authentic.
      Care needs to be taken with statements about brain frying, I have used a iPhones since they first launched and my brain has not fried, the evidence for such consequences is thin. Taking out patents and protecting them is not an inauthentic thing to do, neither is creating a closed ecosystem.
      The final paragraph is factually incorrect. Google go to extreme lengths to protect their users data from government agencies. Google pulled out of China precisely because government agents appeared to be behind a sophisticated hacking of their system and the theft of personal data.

  5. Robert says:

    Mobile Phones, like motor cars, have a certain amount of usefulness but are fundamentally unhealthy. Holding a gadget next to your brain that is designed to transmit micro waves for half a mile or more is not good and it looks as though all sorts of cancers are caused or exacerbated by their use. Many long term studies are currently in progress, but anecdotal information does not bode well for people who are long-term, heavy users and particularly children.

    It’s a bit ironic that Steve Jobs himself is unfortunately a cancer sufferer, for me an authentically lived life is by definition a healthy one. Apple does not compare well to Microsoft who give away a lot of extremely high quality software and are embracing the concept of open source software. For example any small/medium startup new business can apply to have ALL their software free of charge for three years.

    And I don’t see a Steve Jobs Foundation, whereas Bill Gates has devoted the second half of his life to philanthropy.

    I mentioned the patent issue in my last comment and that is a serious one, Apple are attempting to monopolise the tablet computer based on vague patents of line drawings of shapes, and their expensive lawyers are getting success in the courts in preventing other hardware manufacturers making tablet computers. An authentic business would not try to crush competitors out of fear of competition.

    It’s no coincidence that Apple is now a larger and more profitable company than Microsoft as profitability and growth seem to be their prime motivation.

    Whilst I acknowledge that Apple are innovators, that is not enough to make them authentic. Fundamentally they are just like any other mega-corporation and by holding them up as an example of an authentic business weakens all the arguments in your books and emails about what authenticity in business is.

    Hundreds or perhaps thousands of Authentic businesses have sprung up in the last 20 years but I don’t believe Apple is one of them.

      • Robert says:

        First article is just somebody who shares your opinion without giving any evidence for the theories postulated.

        The second article, OK I take the point that Steve Jobs has contributed to charity, though I note it was product related rather than just pure philanthropy i the mould of Bill gates.

        I’ve just returned from a 2 and a half hour ride round the Surrey Hills during which I had plenty of thinking time and the best I could come up with is that Apples legacy will be billions of plastic adult toys in landfill sites, whereas to continue the Microsoft analogy theirs will be being a major player in the building the foundation of the Internet, the greatest human invention of the last 100 years.
        However Microsoft come in for loads of criticism and Apple are held up as paragons of virtue.

        Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but in realty Neil, they are all the same! Apple, Microsoft, Google and all companies of that scale can only get that big by not being truly authentic.

        Truly authentic businesses stay local and limit their own growth.

        I know you’re from a corporate background, although you’ve escaped and have done some great work. You’re a long time admirer of Apple but Without wishing to be rude, you need to take off those rose-tinted spectacles and see these corporate behemoths for what they really are.

  6. Steve Prior says:

    Hi Neil

    Like it or not, our dear and beloved capitalist system is flawed. It is the underlying flaws which cause businesses to behave in such a way as to make them and their employees inauthentic.

    Granted, people will try and do what’s best whilst also trying to make sure they keep their job.

    Whether there’s any truth in Apples Chinese manufacturers causing wide scale pollution or the fact that people are poorly paid and in appalling conditions to mine sulphur which is needed for our gadgets.

    It all boils down to the same thing that causes organisations like Innocent to repackage products with less product in them so they appear cheaper when in fact people are getting less value and not more.

    It’s the underlying structures which causes people to behave in self interested ways.

    I acknowledge that Apple and Google are innovators and if we define authenticity as innovation that’s fine but I think to ignore or turn a blind eye to other measures of authenticity we are deluding ourselves and humanity.

  7. Pingback: Business en Authenticiteit | Peetzen

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