CEO Tim Cook once said that he hoped Apple ‘would live on forever’. Apple has indeed come a long way, from almost bankruptcy in the 1990’s, to the most valuable company in the world today. But will the dream live on? In my book ‘The survival paradox’ I disclose the four prerequisites for sustainable growth for Apple, and any immortal company. It is above all a matter of finding the right balance between the need for change, and the need for stability and continuity.
Will your company still exist in 5 years' time? It is an existential question, not only for Apple, but one that deeply concerns the owners and executives of many of today's companies, both large and small, in any industry. In a rapidly changing world, successes from the past do not guarantee safety in the future. Life cycles of companies will dramatically shorten over the course of the new decade. Most business books, and consultants’ key notes, take a short-term perspective and emphasize the need for radical change and celebrate the virtues of disruption. A coherent, integrated and evidence-based theory, is often lacking.
In my book ‘The survival paradox’ I use the AGIL paradigm of the American sociologist Talcott Parsons (Harvard University, 1950s) as a guideline to the conditions for survival, applied to the 40 years of Apple. Parsons has largely investigated the four functions any social system, in our case a company like Apple, needs to fulfil to survive. First, a company must adapt to its environment (A = Adaptation), but must also have a clear and single-minded strategy to achieve its goals and stick to it (G = Goal attainment). At the same time, it must also be able to keep things together internally, in an increasingly fragmented and polarised reality (I = Integration). Finally, a company must ensure the preservation of its identity and culture through time (L = Latent pattern maintenance). Only the companies that successfully fulfil all four of these functions will ultimately survive.
CHANGE VS STABILITY AT APPLE
Could it be that Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs knew of, or even studied, Talcott Parsons’ writings in sociology? Unfortunately, we can’t ask him about it anymore. But Jobs was considered to be ‘a systems thinker’ by his closest friends. My research on Apple has demonstrated to what extent Apple is indeed run like a social system. This same organization has grown from near bankruptcy in the 1990’s to become the largest company in the world today (measured on the basis of market value) over a period of 40 years. The four functions of the AGIL paradigm allow us to understand the underlying factors behind Apple's brilliant successes and equally spectacular failures (in the mid-1990’s). The paradigm also teaches us why Apple is more successful today under Tim Cook than under its founder and driving force, Steve Jobs.
‘Everything will change at Apple’, says Tim Cook, ‘except our values’, perfectly demonstrating the Survival Paradox. It is important for Apple, and any company, to strive for an evolutive balance between the need for change (the A and G functions) and the need for stability, continuity and consistency (the L and I functions). This seemingly paradox holds the key for sustainable growth, and ultimately survival.
INSPIRING FOR ANY COMPANY
The book ‘The Survival Paradox’ is a unique survival guide for owners and leaders of incumbent companies willing to secure their survival in volatile times. But it will also be of great relevance for the many thousands, of young entrepreneurs who are starting up their own business today. The research about Apple shows how a start-up company can succeed (or not) in becoming a sustainable company in the medium term. In this respect, the story of Apple is inspiring in many ways. Its ability to learn from its many failures and its resilience to dust itself down and start all over again, time after time, is an example from which any company can learn. If it wants to survive.
ADVANCE PRAISE FOR ‘THE SURVIVAL PARADOX'
‘When we started Apple, Steve and I assumed that every successful company was immortal. Lasting, rather than selling out, is about wanting to bring good change to the world, more than the money it brings. This book brilliantly captures what Apple has always been about.’
(Steve Wozniak - co-founder of Apple Computer)
‘In this thoughtful and highly practical book, Fons Van Dyck brings the Apple story to life in a powerfully vivid way through his clever application of the AGIL framework. Timely, engaging, and full of invaluable lessons for companies young and old.’
(Kevin Lane Keller -professor at Tuck School of Business (Dartmouth College), co-author of Marketing Management)
‘What do companies really want? To be relevant forever. The difference between being Built to Last or being Built to Suck is to understand the Survival Paradox.’
(Chris Burggraeve - Founder Vicomte. Former CMO AB InBev and author of “Marketing is Finance is Business”)
'What depth, what detail: The Survival Paradox is Fons Van Dyck's magnum opus.’
(Peter Hinssen - Co-founder of nexxworks, author of The Day After Tomorrow
‘The solid argumentation of an expert, the clear pen of a didactian, the feeling for a smart non-fiction book of a gifted author. World class.’
(Marc Buelens - Professor emeritus Vlerick Business School, columnist for Trends Magazine)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fons Van Dyck specialises in corporate survival, branding and communication strategy and change management for companies and organisations.
He is the head of Think BBDO, a Brussels-based brand strategy division of the worldwide marketing and advertising agency network BBDO, for more than 15 years.
As a professor in media and communication studies, he lectures in brand strategy and marketing communication at the VUB (Free University of Brussels). His work allows him to combine academic thoroughness and a unique degree of professional expertise.
His latest book ‘The Survival Paradox, Change vs Stability at Apple, and any immortal company’ (LannooCampus) is now for sale at all major online bookstores.
Fons holds a PhD in media and communication studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel-Solvay Business School) and a master degree in political sciences (KU Leuven).