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A short interview with Jasna Sykorova

A short interview for iCon where I’ll be presenting tomorrow. The interview originally took place on January 9th, 2013.

Jasna Sykorova: You have focused on mobile devices for some time now. What made you to start to give a special attention to Apple related data?

I began to look at Apple in 2005; long before they were in the phone market. I had an iPod and liked the Mac but I did not have particular reason to think about the company. You might find it strange that it was the launch of two very peculiar products that caused me to change my perception of the company. They were the iPod Shuffle and the Mac mini.

These are not seen as important today nor were they back then.  But they signaled to me that something dramatic was happening: the company was shedding its “premium” image. This and the earlier move of iTunes to Windows signaled [to me] that Apple was serious about the mass market and the minimum price that a person would need to pay to become an Apple owner.

This was pivotal to me also from the point of view of disruption theory. If a company takes the fight to the low end it means it protects itself from a low end disruptor and may even enter new markets. So if the thinking is that Apple would disrupt then it would have to get into new categories. I then asked myself what it would target. I told myself (again, in 2005) that Apple will do three things:

  1. build a phone
  2. disrupt the PC market
  3. enter the living room.

1 and 2 are well understood to have happened and 3 is nearly here with Apple TV.

Each of these were tremendous opportunities and it’s been fun watching it happen over the last 7 years.

By the way, my expectations were right not because of any insight into the company. I had not studied Apple much at the time. All my expectations came from understanding the psychology of a disruptor. Nor does it mean that what Apple did was deliberately planned. It’s possible to predict what people will do even if they don’t know what they will do themselves.

Can data tell stories? Can you judge just by data?

Data tells amazing stories but not without an interpreter. Having data without a storyteller is like the tree falling in the forest and nobody being there to hear it. If the data’s story is not interpreted then does the story actually exist? Did the data “make a noise”? It’s a question for philosophers.

Practically, it’s important not to base decision making on data alone. Data only exists about the past. Clay Christensen blames God for making us suffer in this cruel way. The past sometimes reveals patterns that help us predict the future, but it’s hard to see some patterns. You may need to look at long time frames and there’s never enough data. What is more helpful is to have a theory.

Science works this way. Data helps build a model and the model helps build a theory and that theory is tested over time and adjusted. Unfortunately, we don’t have very good theories about how businesses should be run. I used to say that if Business Management was a science it would be like medicine in the Middle Ages: mostly superstition and faith in the powers of individuals. [We need to move forward from this.] That’s what I’m doing with my work: trying to build and test management theories. The data is just the first step on that road.

What is the difference between Apple in the time of Steve Jobs and Apple now?

Steve Jobs was a very important influence in the DNA of Apple. I think his influence was so deep that it existed even when he was not there in the 90s and I think it exists to this day. The influence is in the priorities, values and culture of the company. These influences exist in all companies and are very hard to change. They are almost never put in writing or even discussed. They are dogma, constitutions or doctrine by other names.

Processes and assets may change however. I think decision processes will change at Apple. I suspect there will be more discipline in that regard and more rational ways of doing things. That could be good or that could be bad. But the passion to be great will not change. That’s what the brand speaks to each employee. They are there because they want to be part of that greatness.

You will speak about Apple’s strategy for enterprises at the iCon. Do you consider it a “new wave” of activities of Apple? What chance does it have against the strong corporate players like Dell? And what benefit can iPad have for a company, if any?

If you look at my list from 2005 you don’t see Enterprise on there. I think it might have joined the list since then. But it’s not obvious yet. The thing is that Apple’s approach to Enterprise will not be typical. It will be disruptive. It will be subtle and “easily ignored”. This is what I want to discuss. The incumbents are not noticing Apple even as they are losing significant value to Apple in their core markets.

Analysts (and consultants) find all kinds of reasons to downplay Apple’s efforts and comfort the organizations who hire them [which is why the approach is generally unfelt]. Also IT is changing in the jobs it’s hired to do. These are all good signs that something is happening. Something that will become very quickly a fait accompli.