Boring is the new black

When you have a trillion-dollar market cap…

From Farhad Majoo’s The Metamorphosis of Silicon Valley C.E.O.s: From Big to Boring in Thursday’s New York Times:

It’s no mystery why tech leaders are turning inward. “Tech is now such a huge and dominant industry,” said Joshua Reeves, the proudly boring founder and chief executive of Gusto, a start-up that makes human resources software. “The fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mind-set is just not viable when you have a trillion-dollar market capitalization or if you have more influence than many governments around the world.” …

There is one obvious exception to my boring-is-in thesis: Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, whose string of unconsidered tweets, taunts and other recent scandals have been anything but eye-glazing…

Back in [Steve] Jobs’s day, tech was relatively uncomplicated; when the great man came bearing a new music player, you didn’t have to wonder whether it might help a foreign government steal an election. Now, after everything we have seen recently, you do have to worry about what the future may hold. Even Mr. Musk is worried.

“I tried to convince people to slow down A.I.,” he told Mr. Rogan. “This was futile. I tried for many years. Nobody listened. Nobody listened.”

Thus, the tension: On one hand, Mr. Musk wants us to believe that everything he’s building is going to turn out wonderfully. On the other, he’s telling us to be very scared. This sounds like a contradiction, but in its admission of doubt and complexity, it’s actually a pretty good picture of the future.

No wonder he sounds crazy. No wonder everyone else is going for boring.

My take: Apple went for boring seven years ago.


  1. John Kirk said:

    Maybe I’m missing PED’s point, but I don’t think Apple is boring at all.

    First, Apple is the only company of its kind. No one runs a business the way Apple does. I think they would be a fascinating study even if they were just a fortune 500 company. But they’re NOT just a fortune 500 company. They are THE fortune 500 company. Despite being valued like they’re going out of business in 7 years, they have a trillion dollar market cap. And they absolutely OWN the premium portion of the most important product of our time — the smartphone.

    Second, it’s not just that Apple is different that intrigues me, it’s also the products they make and the products they’re sure to make. I don’t know anything about their self-driving car ambitions but I’m as sure as I can be that they’re going to be coming out with some sort of Apple glasses sometime soon. And that’s going to — both figuratively and literally — change the way we view the world. In typical Apple fashion, they are laying out the building blocks one by one, right before our eyes. The chips. The camera, The AR capabilities. When the glasses finally arrive, we’ll look back and connect all the dots. But most of those dots are there already, staring us in the face.

    Apple is boring? I think they’re the most exciting company in the world. But maybe that’s just me.

    September 13, 2018
    • John Kirk said:

      ADDENDUM: Geez, I forgot to even mention the Apple Watch. The government approval of the watch’s EKG function is mind-bending. I always thought that U.S. regulations would be a ceiling on what Apple could do with the watch in the health arena. If the government is really going to let Apple use the watch as a true health device — in addition to its other functions — well, that opens up all sorts of doors.

      September 13, 2018
  2. Richard Wanderman said:

    While I agree with John I also see PED’s point: In the old days, when Apple was struggling for survival Jobs was willing to take bigger risks and his “fuck you (IBM and others)” attitude back then also played into that.

    Those days are long over, thank god.

    Now that Apple knows how to print money they’re not looking for a new printing press, they’re improving the one they have and finding other things to print with it (services). To some, that might seem boring in that Apple isn’t struggling anymore (and that struggle was exciting) but like John, I think they’re making great progress in both iterating their iOS devices and coming up with new services. The ECG function on the new watch is a huge step and I’ll be ordering one tomorrow for sure.

    I think yesterday’s announcements were fantastic: while I’m not crazy about the iPhone naming scheme, the new A12 processor and all of the other refinements are incredible.

    September 13, 2018
  3. My take would have made more sense if I’d included Farhad’s nut graph, where he used Jack Dorsay’s solicitous Senate testimony to set up the contrast between tech CEOs who patterned themselves after Steve Jobs and a new generation more like Tim Cook:

    “Mr. Dorsey — who like the late Mr. Jobs returned to a company he co-founded in order to save it — has long drawn comparisons to Mr. Jobs. Yet the congressional testimony marked a surprising rhetorical shift. Instead of the black-turtlenecked Mr. Jobs, Mr. Dorsey sounded more like Tim Cook, the understated operations manager who replaced him (and who held his umpteenth iPhone event on Wednesday).”

    September 13, 2018
  4. Fred Stein said:

    Not boring at all. Tim Cook does not sensationalize, shock, or play to the cheap seats with nonsense like smoking weed on camera.

    Yesterday’s announcement was thrilling, once you get past the predicted size and price increases. Here is what thrilled me:
    1) iPhone X – top seller world wide – all phones, not just smart
    2) Apple Watch – top seller world wide – all watches, not just smart
    3) A12 Bionic – untouchable performance with less power consumption
    4) Watch 4 – new appeals to ages 10 to 100 years old
    5) iPhone Xs and Xz Max – poised to become a gaming platforms

    September 13, 2018

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