The Lessons From Apple's Decline

Remember when it was all so exciting? The Apple II that played all those games? The incredible Mac, with a dynamite graphic interface that did away with all those idiotic DOS commands? Remember playing with a mouse for the first time, trying to click onto the icons? There was so much magic in Apple Computer in the early '80s that it is hard to believe that it may fade away, folded into another computer company or surviving as a mere niche player. Apple transformed cold bits and bytes into cool tools and toys for millions of people around the world. Its decline is sad testimony that product innovation and bold vision are sometimes not enough for long-term survival. Apple went from hip to has-been in just 19 years.

In an entrepreneurial society, such as America, the lessons of Apple's decline are extremely important. Apple's core renegade culture planted the seeds of its demise. From the very beginning, the "creators" of technology held experienced managers and marketers in total disdain. They were the corporate "suits," the enemies of the jeans-clad clique around Steve Jobs that was defying the Establishment.

The result? An inward-looking, closed culture kept Apple from expanding into the larger marketplace. The original Mac was underpowered and literally closed to non-Apple technology. It took the removal of Jobs by John Sculley to open the Mac up. But Sculley, like Michael Spindler who followed, could not persuade the techies to go further and license the Mac operating system. Had Apple done so, it might have dominated the computer market around the world.

Instead, Apple remained aloof from the marketlplace and let its core technology stagnate. Microsoft Corp. has all but caught up to it with Windows 95, and the rest is history. Innovation and vision could not compensate for hubris, weak management, and a board of directors that let once-precious assets rot on the vine.

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