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What the iPhone 4 SNAFU May Say About Corporate Culture

By July 16, 2010

The rumors are circulating about what happened at Apple that produced its catastrophic iPhone 4. Some reports say engineers knew about the antenna/dropped-call problem but were made to understand that CEO Steve Jobs's wish was to keep moving forward and ship the product.

Let's say for a moment that Jobs didn't know there was a problem. It seems incredible that he would know about the problem and ship anyway. Jobs is known to be arrogant and mercurial, and it would not be surprising if there are people in Apple who don't want to tell him the truth. I can just imagine the conference room conversation:  "You tell him....I'm not telling him. You tell him!"

I wonder how many companies have engineering (or marketing, or research, or sales, or customer service, or human resources) departments that are afraid of executive management. Lots of companies give lip service to being able to fail without fatal repercussions. (In corporate speak this is called "failing forward.") But I suspect, and have witnessed, that scapegoating and CYA is a much more common reaction to serious mistakes that "attaboys/girls."

What's your opinion, of Apple or other companies and their cultures when it comes to the friction between speed-to-market and quality? Join the discussion.

July 17, 2010 at 3:32 am
(1) Dirty Hippie says:

Are you serious??? The whole basis of a corporation is to make as much money as possible for their shareholders. As such, when a negative situation arises the favored choice is that which will least negatively impact the bottom line. I’m guessing the antenna issue if just such a decision.

Even Holy Apple isn’t free of serving their shareholder masters.

July 17, 2010 at 7:17 am
(2) Mitchell York says:

We could discuss whether the ‘whole’basis of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. One could say there are other reasons: serving customers, serving the management team, serving other employees, for example. But I take your point, which I think is that Apple knew about the problem, decided to ship anyway, and that time to market was more important than reputation and trust, especially with Android phones eating into Apple’s marketshare on a daily basis. You are probably right!

July 19, 2010 at 12:40 pm
(3) BJStewart says:

This just push me more to push the ‘rush hour’ out. Even if I put alot of work into my product and want to hurry up and get it out there, I would’nt want my reputation to out do my sales. I would rather have longer sales than customers who look at me like, ‘I’m not going back to her because I remember what hapenned last time’. If you have to wait, then wait. Good things come to those who wait. Your rep’ is on the sales, so work like it.

July 22, 2010 at 8:33 am
(4) Jim Mill says:

I find this backlash to be puzzling. On the one hand, Steve Jobs certainly handled the publicity poorly. On the other, if a $2 ring of neoprene fixed the problem, it really wasn’t much of a problem to begin with. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that so many people were in a rush to judgment over this issue, and yet Microsoft products have been so riddled with problems over the years that nobody really expects anything better from them. Why aren’t Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer blamed for the faults of their company’s products to the extent that Steve Jobs has been pilloried?

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