18 March 2012

Apple's Lack of Creativity

Apple is often hailed as one of the most creative companies in the world, and for good reason. They've passed Exxon in market value, the apparent triumph of product design and innovation over the claim on oil and processes and distribution outlets to turn that into energy.

When it comes to product design, I think you could argue that Apple is the most creative company operating today. They don't seem to do the really interesting research that AT&T did in its day or that IBM seemingly still does - the kind of research that leads to innovations like transistors or nanotechnology. But they make products that provoke feelings akin to love, and outside of chocolatiers, not many can make such a claim.

But Apple now has nearly $100 billion in cash, which seems to me fairly convincing proof that they aren't particularly adept at translating technological invention know-how into competence in social invention.

Of course, in their defense corporations generally don't see social invention of any importance.

Countries have learned to treat social invention - that is, entrepreneurship - as important for progress. Companies have not.

Imagine if Apple were to trust its culture enough to use its $100 billion to fund startups and initiatives from within the company. What if rather than sit on the cash like they were waiting for bad times or simply paying it out in dividends, they instead used what they've learned about products, projects, and employees to begin funding new ventures, most that would fail (think the Lisa computer) but all that could become fodder for future successes (think about how the Lisa computer became the foundation for the Mac).

Apple could go down in history as the GM of its time - a highly successful company that rode a wave of technology popularization. Or it could go down in history as a pioneer, using their success with one kind of invention (product) to fund and create expertise in a new kind of invention (social), learning how to evolve a company that makes products into a company that makes companies. If they learn how to do that, they'll need all $100 billion - and then some. But if they learn how to do that, their stock price of $600 could begin to look as quaint as did Berkshire Hathaway's stock price of $600 (Warren Buffett's Berkshire stock traded at $122,190 a share Friday, some days moving $600 a share.)

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