Has Apple Solved the Innovator’s Dilemma?

June 15, 2012 § 1 Comment

Last October, along with many other tributes to the late Apple co-founder, James Allworth claimed that Steve Jobs Solved the Innovator’s Dilemma.  His explanation is that Apple avoids the traditional pitfalls that stifle innovation because:

Apple hasn’t optimized its organization to maximize profit. Instead, it has made the creation of value for customers its priority.

This analysis echoes what Steve Denning calls Radical Management, which sees the purpose of a business as providing Customer Delight rather than short-sightedly maximizing shareholder value.

To support his thesis, James cites Apple’s unusual attitude towards:

  • Profit: “there’s only one person Apple with responsibility for a profit and loss. The CFO.”
  • People: “It didn’t matter how great you were, if you couldn’t deliver to that mission — you were out.”
  • Products: “Tim Cook, on the iPad disrupting the Mac business: ‘Yes, I think there is some cannibalization… the iPad team works on making their product the best. Same with the Mac team.’ It’s almost unheard of to be able to manage disruption like this.”

While these are clearly key contributors to Apple’s disruptive success, the only show that Apple has so far avoided the Innovator’s Dilemma. Clay Christensen himself, author of the Innovator’s Dilemma and  self-appointed “Jewish Mother” to the business world, still publicly worries whether Apple has truly found a sustainable solution to that problem.

So has Apple solved the Innovator’s Dilemma, or not?  How could we know?

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