A Few Thoughts on the Eve of WWDC

Here we are again, on the eve of another WWDC, feeling…weird. Excited. Ambivalent? Curious. Did I mention excited? But also kinda annoyed. And some of you? Some of you are downright mad.

There’s a cloud hovering over Apple Park again, and it’s not just the pandemic. It’s bruised developer relations. It’s alleged anti-trust violations. It’s App Store scammy-ness. It’s the weight of a million different expectations and quibbles, from “make the iPad more like the Mac” to “let the iPad be an iPad,” from pro hardware announcements to satisfy developers, to hints of an augmented reality revolution to satisfy those hungry and excited for the post-staring-at-screens era.

And then there’s the shareholders. Can’t forget the shareholders.

Caught in the middle of it all, then, are the lovely Apple employees we know (or are lightly acquainted with) and love. They show us their work with such deliberation and care, such passion and delight. They made our iMacs colorful again. They made it possible to control an Apple Watch with one hand. They work on Notes, on tvOS, on Safari, on SwiftUI, on hundreds of teams that make things millions of people rely on. And if any of them are reading this: I appreciate you, and I hope you have an awesome WWDC week. I can’t wait to see what you’ve been working on. There’s always something announced at WWDC that just blows me away, and I know this year will be no different.

Speaking of different, Apple’s slogan used to be “Think Different.” Apple does many things differently, such as its environmental initiatives, focus on health and accessibility, and emphasis on privacy. But Apple is a big company and big companies naturally become stubborn, entrenched in tradition, and difficult to steer in different directions.

Unfortunately for Apple, the winds of change are blowing, have been for a long time, and are reaching gale force. In various regions of the United States, the coronavirus’s progress has been stymied and the phrase “back to normal” is bandied about as if it’s a sure thing, as if “normal” is something we have managed to recover, rather than something new being slowly born from the ashes of a horrible year.

While some have learned absolutely nothing from this experience, others are finding a renewed understanding of what’s most important to them. A country obsessed with work is toying with the idea that the way we do and view work might not always be the best way. And amidst all of this, an absolute reckoning involving the way we treat one another, and the way our entire society is structured to, consciously or unconsciously, treat some worse than others.

There is palpable anger toward so many in authority, whether in government, or at companies like Apple, for a failure to listen and a refusal to even consider change.

I’ve said this before, but I believe one of the single most important leadership qualities is humility, which by definition requires listening. If Apple executives listen to their employees and developers, decide their requests are not in line with the company’s core values, and say as much, that is one thing, because at least it’s honest. If, however, their requests or ideas align with the company’s values, but clash with its traditions or shareholder expectations (or simply aggravate the executives’ hubris) and they dig in their heels and tighten their grips, they are rightly deserving of criticism and, dare I say, scorn. And I think they’ll find, as the winds of change continue to blow, that they’ll eventually be caught in a storm they can’t escape, driven along on a course they did not chart for themselves.

It’s not about giving in to every little demand being lobbed at them. It’s about collecting information, determining what the right thing to do is, and doing it the Apple Way. When Apple does that and does it right, the results are fantastic.

Let’s hope we see some of that Apple shine through this week.


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