Tim Cook’s over-optimism is hurting Apple

[Photo: Josh Edelson, AFP, Getty Images]

A healthy dose of realism would do Apple the world of good

Tim Cook has said himself that he’s an optimist. He sees the future – specifically, Apple’s future – with optimistic eyes. And that’s not a bad thing. Any CEO needs to be optimistic. Having a positive perspective on the company you lead is both natural and necessary.

That said, I can’t help but feel that in recent times, Tim Cook’s utterances about Apple have been over-optimistic. Almost to the extent you might suggest he’s seeing and interpreting things through rose-tinted glasses.

This isn’t to suggest he’s naive or ignorant, or anything like that. In many ways, though, it feels like the optimism of someone who is under pressure and under fire.

There is endless negativity surrounding Apple, especially in the post Steve Jobs era. Barely a day goes by without another new article being written about how doomed Apple is. Much of this is ill-informed nonsense. But the more something is repeated, the more people start to believe it.

Tim Cook must feel under such incredible pressure. I can’t think of a single CEO who has faced such close examination following on in the footsteps of such an idolised former CEO. I’ve long appreciated his humility and how he’s handled himself under this pressure, though. He knows he’s not Steve Jobs, and he’s secure enough as a person to not try to be. He has brought a lot of wisdom and stability to Apple.

That said, the pressure to keep Apple growing and innovating is immense. The scrutiny is endless. And as the negative voices have grown, it seems as if Cook has felt the need up the ante with emphasising the positives (of which, of course, there are many).

I wonder, however, if he’s begun to go too far. His optimism lately feels like it has veered towards over-optimism that isn’t entirely grounded in reality – and can start to feel like he’s not seeing some of the negatives at all. His overly-positive messages during recent financials, for example, are surely in part to blame for the recent stock price fall.

Apple are a notoriously over-stated company. All their products are ‘amazing’ or ‘magical’. That’s in part how they roll. And they can get away with because they have a long history of leaving their customers incredibly satisfied with their products.

But it feels like there’s a healthy dose of realism needed from Tim Cook. Again, not because Apple is doomed – far from it – but because there are challenging circumstances Apple is facing right now. The iPhone’s growth appears to have reached the peak of it’s growth curve. It may keep growing, but the extraordinary period of hyper growth would seem to be over. Tim Cook though is consistently suggesting that this isn’t the case.

Then there’s the iPad. I’ve lost track of the number of quarters where the iPad sales have declined and yet Tim Cook as raved about how positive he feels about the future of the iPad.

And here’s the thing. I’m sure he is optimistic about the iPad, and genuinely so. It’s not like the iPad is going anywhere and 10 million sales per quarter is not to be dismissed. But 10 million is not the 20 million it once was.

We never hear Tim Cook express any kind of disappointment though. He’s always emphasising the positive. And I understand why. Within the context of a media who are desperate to interpret anything and everything as bad news for Apple, it’s tempting to go to the other extreme.

My sense though is that Apple need Tim Cook to not overreact to the negativity. To not get caught up worrying one quarter to the next. He needs to get back to only worrying about the big picture and the long-term. It feels like he’s got sucked into a here-and-now battle of positive versus negative. Apple doesn’t need that distraction. They need their CEO to be fully focused on continuing to delight their customers with new and innovative products, great software, and reliable services. If Apple and Tim Cook just keep their attention there, they won’t need to worry about the share price or the media.

It’s an old adage, but Apple needs to get back to under-promising and over-delivering.


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