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Why Apple's iTV (or Whatever It Will Be) Will Fail

Stocks in this article: AAPL

Whatever this new device ends up being, it is critically important to the future of Apple and Tim Cook's reputation as the CEO with the task of replacing a legend.

Is it Cognitive Dissonance?

I often agree with Fortune's Adam Lashinsky. For instance, he's on the mark when he says the most urgent challenge facing Tim Cook is putting out innovative products. And he wrote an excellent article, published Thursday, about Cook's tenure as CEO at Apple.

When somebody I respect as much as Lashinsky speaks, I not only listen, but I prepare to have my strongest convictions challenged and maybe even changed. Lashinsky wrote:

For their part, most Apple employees seem more than satisfied with Cook. He often sits down randomly with employees in the cafeteria at lunchtime, whereas Jobs typically dined with design chief Jonathan Ive . . . At Apple, Jobs was simultaneously revered, loved, and feared. Cook clearly is a demanding boss, but he's not scary. He's well-respected, but not worshiped. As Apple enters a complex new phase of its corporate history, perhaps it doesn't need a god as CEO but a mere mortal who understands how to get the job done

Like many Apple observers (and, I presume, bulls), Lashinsky presents seemingly conflicting viewpoints.

As a human being, Tim Cook is my kind of guy. Personally, I am not a big fan of how Steve Jobs reportedly treated other people. So, I think it's fantastic that Cook breaks bread with the common man and carries himself like a "mere mortal." I'll take reserved yet confident over bombastic and self-absorbed any day of the week. I'll take someone who considers and cares about another person's feelings over someone who shows complete disregard.

But, as much as our human sides cringe when we hear stories of Jobs berating people in meetings or giving a lecture to a young girl trying to peddle Girl Scout cookies, we also must acknowledge that these qualities, at least in part, made the man. And that man made Apple what it is today.

In one breath, we're told something we can all agree on: Cook's biggest challenge is to be innovative. In the next, Cook becomes the guy Apple needs because he is nice, takes the time to converse with shareholders and is making Apple "slightly more open and considerably more corporate." According to Lashinsky, Apple employees, at least in some areas, wanted a kinder and gentler CEO.

That's all fine and good. Some shareholders wanted a dividend and a buyback. Cook gave it to them. Plenty of folks pan for less expensive Macbooks and a mini-iPad. Cook will likely deliver there as well.

It shocks me that so many people overlook such a crucial point. Greatness generally does not spring from giving the people what they want. As sadistic as it sounds, Jobs' incredibly quirky and often downright mean behavior contributed to his unique ability to make Apple tick.

When iPhone 5 comes out, Jobs will receive credit for whatever it is. It has likely been in the pipeline for some time. There's likely no need for a massive overhaul of the device or the choreographed release. Cook simply needs to continue babysitting things as he done quite well so far as CEO.

When the next brand new product comes out, it's all on Cook. Even if Jobs conceived the design, features and overall aura of iTV (or whatever it will be) before he died, he's not around to deal with what it appears Cook is dealing with now.

Getting somewhere with content providers or changing the plan months before a launch because you got nowhere with content providers requires a different type of innovation. It's one that we probably did not give Jobs enough credit for. He could will others to create beautiful products, but he also had a way of making powerful people outside of Apple do what he wanted. He had a way of pulling rabbits out of his hat.

You cannot simply impart these ingredients of Apple's greatness on to a mere mortal, no matter how much people like and do not fear him.

At the time of publication, the author holds no positions in any of the stocks mentioned in this article.
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