Categories

Author Horace Dediu

Priorities in a time of plenty

How Apple is managed is one of its enduring mysteries. The idea that a company with $235 billion in sales is managed with a single P/L[1]  is fascinating in many ways. Not least of which is how it allocates resources. The fundamental question of which great idea gets to be funded and which great idea gets to be ignored is the core of every manager’s dilemma. The Apple problem is at scale  when each decision’s consequences are so momentous. In the case of Apple there are so few projects that reach the market and their impact is so great that one wonders how they can be sure they are doing the right thing.

Conventionally, product development is filtered through a sieve of  metrics, market sizing and impact on top/bottom income lines. These “financial” measures of success are considered prudent and optimized for return on equity (also known as the maximization of shareholder returns).

But this can be a toxic formula. The financial optimization algorithm always prioritizes the known over the unknown since the known can be measured and is assigned a quantum of value while the unknown is “discounted” with a steep hurdle rate, and assigned a near zero net present value. Thus the financial algorithm leads to promoting efficiency at the expense of creation. Efficiency may be the right priority when times are difficult and resources are scarce but creativity is the right priority in a time of plenty. And abundance is what being big is all about.

To allow for some creation large firms create divisions. Some divisions are tasked with “core products” which are measured by a set of firm metrics and some are tasked with “emerging products” which are given a set of loose metrics. This leads to obvious resentment and war between divisions when resources need allocating.

Ominously, the core divisions tend to always win. At the root of divisional power struggles are measurements–the roots of financial metrics. Managers fight with data. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure” they’re taught. But if you have something that can be easily measured and something that is difficult to measure, won’t the easily-measured be managed and the hard-to-measure be ignored?

There is a general principle at work here: Managing by measurement is fraught with the pitfall of measuring the wrong thing. Making sure that you’re measuring the right thing becomes the value-adding role of the manager. A role that is increasingly being neglected.

The mass phenomenon of measuring the wrong thing because it’s the easiest to measure is called “financialization”. Financialization is the process by which finance and finances (rather than creation) determine company, individual and society’s priorities. It comes about from an abundance of data that leads to fixation on what is observable to the detriment of awareness of hazards or obstacles or alternatives. This phenomenon is more likely when the speed of change increases and decision cycles shorten.

Financialization is creeping into all aspects of society and the extent to which it infects companies is the extent to which they suffer from early mortality.

So is Apple avoiding financialization? How can anyone avoid the tyranny of mis-optimization?

The unified P/L might be a clue. It obviates the need for divisional rivalry and power-based or financial politics. Without divisional P/L, management can be organized functionally with the obvious benefit of de-politicization. The singular P/L does create another problem however: the absence of an alternative resource allocation algorithm centralizes the decision. By centralizing decisions at the highest level, few decisions can be taken and that means each decision has to be right more often. We swap a distributed but financialized process for a central but capricious one.

So how is the central decision process made fair? What guides the allocation process?

Notes:
  1. Profit and Loss statement is an income statement usually applied for a subset of a larger company which allows subdivisions to be managed individually. []

Asymcar #28 Meaningful

We await the Lamborghini SUV.

Source: Asymcar #28

The Critical Path #166: Glance

Horace and special guest Ben Bajarin of Creative Strategies discuss the Glance conference. They investigate the job of the Watch and touch on the changing responsibilities amongst the upper ranks at Apple.

Source: The Critical Path #166

The Critical Path #165: Audio Port

Horace and Anders discuss the iPhone analog audio port, the lightning port’s use by Apple Pencil and Apple’s viewpoint on privacy and the environment. Horace rounds the episode out with a definition of disruption.

Source: 5by5 | The Critical Path #165: Audio Port

Significant Contribution

In my quoting of the “Cook Doctrine” I cited the primary criteria for Apple to enter a new market:

We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

These criteria, often repeated, were certainly in force when Apple chose to enter the watch market. Apple has sought and achieved a significant market share and did so while owning and controlling the primary technologies behind the product.

I now turn to the significant contribution criterion to study the possibility of Apple’s entry into the car industry.[1]

The significance test shifts the speculation from whether Apple would build a car, to how many cars is could build. Making a few cars is easy (see first commandment of The Entrant’s Guide to the Automotive Industry). Making lots of cars is hard and hence significance in the automotive market (as in watches and phones) means achieving some degree of adoption, a higher degree of usage and a very high degree of profitability.

So what does being significant in the car business mean? Does it mean becoming the next Tesla? The next BYD or the next VW? How quickly?

Fortunately, we have something to compare an Apple entry to. Apple has made a “significant” market entry in phones and others have made entries in cars. If we contrast the rate of growth of Tesla, EVs, and Hybrids[2] to the rate of growth of iPhones in their respective US markets, we obtain a test of significance:

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 12.38.39 PM

The graph shows the percent of sales for the alternative car technologies (and Tesla) vs. the percent of US phone users using iPhones (comScore). Here are the conclusions:

Notes:
  1. Control of the primary technologies behind the product is a topic for another post. []
  2. Of which Toyota has 70% to 80% share []

Asymcar #27

 

We consider the landscape that Apple’s purported Titan project will address in a few years time.

Horace discusses the pattern of disruption powered by Moore’s law. We turn to the transportation sector and consider the “reimagining” of the car. We further consider scenarios, from sustaining where the current players grow, to new entrant opportunities.

The conversation diverts a bit into the regulatory and taxation regime, specifically US road funding is largely tied to fuel taxes. We note the odd situation where an entry level car driver pays fuel taxes while a luxury Tesla driver does not.

We speculate on Apple’s possible “meaningful contribution” to transportation and the required product, customer experience, sales channel, price and financing options.

Source: Asymcar #27

The Critical Path #164: Rocky II

Horace and Anders discuss viewing Apple’s business as a recurring revenue model, then touch on the iPad Pro somewhat unsuccessfully and host a very special guest.

The Critical Path #164

See also:

Rocky II video
Full episode of the show with video where available. Main segment begins at 39:39

Source: The Critical Path #164

My Favorite Apple Watch Myths 

Apple Watch was released April 10th 2015. Eight months later we are holding the first Apple Watch conference. To kick off the discussion, here are my favorite myths about this new product:

Source: My Favorite Apple Watch Myths | Horace Dediu | LinkedIn

Apple Watch Keeps Top Gift Spot Ahead Of Black Friday

The Apple Watch continues to hold the top spot among products that will be hot this holiday season, as predicted by the IBM Trend app.

Source: Apple Watch Keeps Top Gift Spot Ahead Of Black Friday

The Apple Watch scored 100 out of 100 on the “IBM Watson Trend Scale”. According to various surveys, about 100 million people will shop this Thanksgiving weekend in the US. One wonders how many purchases by 100 million shoppers merit a score of 100/100.

My estimate for units shipped has been 20 million in the first calendar year. About 7 million have been sold in the first two quarters. That leaves 13 for the holiday and Q1 (which includes Chinese New Year.) I still like these odds.

To learn more about the reasoning around this estimate and hear additional supporting data, join us at Glance conference.

My review of the Apple Pencil

Apple Pencil Review thumb