Intuition

Tim Cook's upcoming anniversary, how to make decisions, and 7 other things worth your time.

Quote of the Day

"I've seen many changes over the years, but I've learned that the System is bigger than just one person. We need to stay together and fight the competition, not each other."

—Charlie Strong, U.S. field officer for McDonald’s (one of the top 10 U.S. executives), who began working at a McDonald’s in Massachusetts in November 1970. He gets the quote because he’s been with the company ever since, and this was from an internal memo announcing his retirement after more than 50 years.


Good decisions

The year was 1998. Tim Cook was on the fast track, recently recruited as a top executive at the world's largest personal computer company.

But that company wasn't Apple. His employer at the time was Compaq, which was much bigger then, and seemed maybe a better bet to be a big 21st century success story.

Later this year, Cook will mark a decade as Apple’s CEO, but when when he first joined Apple, almost everything we think of today was still in the future: iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, the App Store, the MacBook, the iMac desktop computer.

Heck, even the bright orange Apple iBook that Elle Woods used in the movie Legally Blonde was still a few years away from existence. (It’s OK to admit if you remember the movie and know exactly what I mean.)

So, what drove Cook to leave Compaq and join Steve Jobs at Apple?

It's an interesting example of weaving logic and intuition, not all that different from the MAP process I talked about recently. Cook explained his thinking in a speech at Auburn University a few years back:

"There are times in all of our lives when a reliance on gut or intuition just seems more appropriate--when a particular course of action just feels right. And, interestingly, I've discovered it's in facing life's most important decisions that intuition seems the most indispensable."

You know what else is interesting? It seems to me Jobs made a lot of decisions the same way. A few examples, all of which involved adding intuition to logic:

  • The decision to put time and effort into creating "multiple typefaces" and "proportionally spaced fonts" on the original Mac computer, which Jobs talked about at Stanford in 2005. (Customers didn't know they wanted it; it didn't exist.)

  • Jobs's response to an insulting question about why he wasn't more focused on individual products. (That's easy, Jobs replied. "The hardest thing," he said, "is: How does that fit into a cohesive, larger vision, that's going to allow you to sell $8 billion, $10 billion of product a year?")

  • His decision, just a few months before the launch of the first iPhone, to scrap the plastic screen it was originally going to ship with and instead manufacture it with glass. (Only problem: Sufficiently scratch-resistant glass didn't exist. There's a whole story about how Jobs supposedly strong-armed the CEO of Corning into creating the product in a matter of weeks.)

See what I mean? Logic only gets you so far. But logic plus intuition leads to some very interesting outcomes.

So let's go back to 1998, once more. As Cook explained, "any purely rational consideration of cost and benefits" would have led him to stay at Compaq. But, “not more than five minutes into my initial interview with Steve, I wanted to throw caution and logic to the wind and join Apple," Cook said, adding:

My intuition already knew that joining Apple was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work for the creative genius, and to be on the executive team that could resurrect a great American company.

If my intuition had lost the struggle with my left brain, I'm not sure where I would be today, but I'm certain I would not be standing in front of you.

It's worth noting that Jobs was still alive and running Apple when Cook made this speech, so it probably didn't hurt to praise the boss like that. But I'm willing to take Cook at his word when he explains the story.

I think it comes down to this: If your decision making is limited to lining up costs and benefits, you give away any advantage you might have by being bold or intuitive.

Anyone can choose 50-percent-plus-1, in theory. There's nothing special about 50-percent-plus-1. So, figure out the logical decision. But if you're smart enough, and bold enough, trust your intuition.

The right side of your brain knows things, even if you can't quite explain why.

7 other things worth your time

  • Former President Trump’s second impeachment trial begins this afternoon. Almost everyone involved seems to want to get through it quickly, since the outcome is virtually preordained, and so the vote on conviction could be as soon as one week from today. (The Hill)

  • A 20-year-old trader who mistakenly believed he had lost $750,000 on the Robinhood app took his own life. Now his parents are suing the app for wrongful death, saying it targeted young, inexperienced investors and encouraged them to make risky bets, but offered no "meaningful customer support.” (CBS News)

  • Tesla just bought $1.5 billion worth of Bitcoin, and the company said it plans to begin accepting the digital currency as payment for vehicles soon. (AP)

  • A 70-year-old British man completed a 3,000-mile solo journey rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, raising more than $1 million for Alzheimer's research in the process. (BBC)

  • Was the January 6 “incident” at the Capitol a riot, or an insurrection, or something else? The words matter—especially for insurance companies and insureds, since “insurrections” are often excluded from policies. (Bloomberg)

  • Have you noticed that every new startup seems to have the same aesthetic in its marketing materials? It turns out there’s a name: Corporate Memphis (examples here), which is described as “simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative.” (Wired UK; Arena)

  • Kroger says it’s testing its first 100-percent self-checkout, no-cashier store, starting next week in Dallas. It’s not the first company to do this (I’ve written about Amazon and Walmart doing it), but gosh, you hate to write in real time about jobs vanishing. (Cincinnati Business Journal)

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