Too big for success

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Posted by: stak
Posted on: 2006-12-28 20:36:16

iTunes goes down due to excess demand. This kind of sucks, in more ways than the obvious. It's a sign that Apple is getting too big for its boots.

One of the things that I dislike about the modern economy is the implication that a bigger company is more successful. By total revenue or profits, that may be the case, but in terms of product quality and satisfaction delivered, it definitely is not. This idea goes hand-in-hand with one of my previous posts about how in order to grab more users, the product has to devolve into a pile of mediocre-ly implemented features. This, in turn, kills overall satisfaction and brand loyalty. (Brand loyalty itself borders on irrational behavior so I'm not such a big fan of it; loss of brand loyalty, however, is a definite indicator that the brand is doing something wrong).

One of the concepts we covered in SE 362 was that of conceptual integrity (from the MMM). Although Brooks had a slightly different meaning in mind, I think conceptual integrity applies to a lot of things, and that loss of conceptual integrity is the single most common reason why great things turn into crap. Conceptual integrity, at least the way I mean it, is basically a measure of how much of the original inventor/visionary's concept makes it into the final product undiluted.

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Ideas are extremely difficult to pass on losslessly; trying to do so is much like a game of telephone, where every link in the chain modifies it as it's being passed along. Everybody has their own vision of what they would like the end product to be, and when things are designed by a committee, they always turn out poorly. But that's old news. The problem here is that as companies get larger and larger, it becomes harder and harder to avoid the design-by-committee trap. In a sense, the only difference between something like Windows, which takes 24 people to do the "off" button on the start menu, and something like SkyOS, written almost entirely by one person. One of these is a great OS, the other is not. I'll let you figure out which is which :)

Of course, there's always a few people with the rare ability to take a vision, use it to inspire others, and get everybody on the same page. This can only work up to a certain extent. Microsoft got too big for Bill Gates a while ago; I think Apple is starting to get too big for Steve Jobs. It's certainly too big for anybody else, which is probably why Apple was floundering until Jobs came back.

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