The Critical Path #90: The Praetorian Guard

Horace investigates asymmetric organization structure, and how Apple’s functional vision of careers and jobs differ from most tech companies.

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #90: The Praetorian Guard.

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  • actualbanker

    Is the increasing use by the US executive of Special Forces similar to the Praetorian Guard discussed?
    Elite forces and drones are the way the US wages war now.

  • Joe

    Former Apple SVPs have been unsuccessful outside of Apple’s functional structure.

  • Caroline Gordon

    Wondering about Amazon – they are masters of disruptive innovation, but perhaps only disrupting the outside world – not aware of them disrupting themselves.
    Are Amazon functional or divisional?

  • Kurt

    Couple of comments:

    -The US military does have “divisions” in the sense of having organizations with geographic responsibility for various areas of the world, each of which includes forces from multiple branches. US Central Command for example has responsibility for all forces in Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan. See the Wikipedia article on “Unified Combatant Command” for an overview. However, these are at the topmost level only and the forces assigned vary as different functional units deploy or return home, so not directly analogous to how I think you were using “division”.

    – John Brownlee as former head of retail is a good illustration of your points, I think. If you define a ‘division’ as unit with an independently measurable P&L, then retail would be the closest to that at Apple. You can at least measure retail store sales vs retail store costs in a P&L, which you can’t do for the design, engineering, or marketing functional areas. Coming in from the outside and used to a divisional organization. as far as I can tell from the news reports at the time, Brownlee started to optimize his “division” in the main way he had available, by cutting costs. He doesn’t control product selection or pricing, so it would be much harder to directly increase retail sales. However, optimizing retail P&L does not optimize the full benefit of retail for Apple as a whole, and in this case, it was the functional antibodies that attacked the divisional invader.

  • Kurt

    Correction: John Browett, not Brownlee. Apologies.

  • Joseph Carducci
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  • joosistvan

    Excellent observations, thank you Horace, I totally agree, for I learned much the same through my own painful experiences of struggling with organizations, power, service, the true nature of leadership in the last ten years, where we were “always under pressure to become divisional, to become politicized”, from within and without, just as you said.

    Balance in the end is one person – this is what I learned.

    Emperor or President or CEO, whatever you may call him, he is the tip of the scale, the fundament keeping the balance – and this exactly is the reason why it is questionable if one can replace an “enlightened leader”, even from within the organization, for it takes enormuos dedication and wisdom, both at the same time, and the wise tend not to dedicate themselves while the very dedicated tend not to be very wise just yet … hmm … this one may call the Leadership Dilemma, and it is the very same thing Plato wrote about in the State, and the ancient Chinese advised about through I Ching, amazing how there is nothing new under the Sun.

    As for the “how do you keep people inside the organization motivated, for twenty years, to stay in the same job” question, my experience is that it is the Vision that is motivating on the long term, the One Goal everybody desires to reach, as presented (“sold”) by the “Enlightened Leader”, that they all trust and believe in, thus it holds the organization together for it can never be fully reached, it is always just in front of us, always a step ahead, with other words: we have to be moving towards it, constantly fighting, trying, iterating, and this moving towards it is what results in Balance, just as with a bycicle, you have to move, and this very thing, the process of moving, the desire to accomplish the Goal is also the source of constant innovation, for that is what real movement is, thus the Vision driven functional organization is constantly striving to perfect the solution it serves humanity with, let it be Apple devices, Ford motorcars, Edison lightbulbs, pax romana of the Roman Empire, the salvation of all people for the Church or the American way of life or any other product or service for the Greater Good.

    [This is how far I got with the comment last night when I realized that this in fact is a blog post, my first in English language, even though I had been writing a blog in my native tongue for many years now, thus I also realized that the time has come to launch a blog in English, so I checked the domain name on the top of my mind:, it was free, registered it, set up a WP site this morning, copied the text and finished the writing there, adding a few more thoughts about disruption and the role of the CEO and I am very, very grateful for all this. Thank you very much Horace! For being, for being modest, for always speaking your mind, for experimenting even when you don’t know where the road would lead you, it all gave me great impulses, constant inspiration easing my own next steps – thus I am sincerely hoping that you do excuse this longish and unusual comment! :)]

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