DaveNet: Thursday, July 17, 1997; by Dave Winer.

blue ribbon The Power of the Myth

From James Curry, jcurry@colef.mx:

Dear Mr. Winer:

Having subscribed to your very interesting e-letter just about the time you released The Sure Road to Bankruptcy I am not entirely familiar with what came before so I hope that what I have to say here is not redundant.

As a sociologist with a background in social and political theory who has been researching the structure and operation of the personal computer industry the past two years, I am not surprised by the fanatical response to your critique of Apple.

True belief based on myth is a social phenomenon with deep historical roots. Many a social movement has coalesced around a charismatic leader who gave it an appealing myth to believe in, and thus believing, gave it a reason to defend the leader and/or the myth against any and all rational attack. This can take horrible form, as with Hitler and the Nazis (or the Heaven's Gate cult), or find a more benign expression, as with the recent continued refusal on the part of many people to accept a rational explanation for the alleged alien visitation at Roswell, New Mexico.

The Apple myth has a dual origin. In part it derives from the American cult of the entrepreneur which, while long-standing in our history, experienced a resurgence in the 1980s as part of the ideological underpinnings of Reaganism. It is the Silicon Valley variant of this myth, elaborated in so many of the popular books about the computer industry, i.e., "two guys in a garage," that gave Apple a fertile field to plant the seeds of the current Apple cult. The second origin of the Apple myth, then, is Apple's own self-conscious efforts to be seen as the apotheosis of the entrepreneurial myth. Apple went to great lengths to promote itself as a humble counter-cultural start-up, leader of the rebel alliance against the evil empire of IBM (how times change), and maker of insanely great products for those unwilling to blindly join the brainwashed masses.

Sadly, it is the case that many revolutions, which initially storm from success to success and really do have truth and justice on their side, eventually become ossified, brittle parodies of their earlier glories as the world changes and they can't change with it. The Apple Revolution is no exception; having disillusioned many of those it set out to benefit, the company is now like a decrepit dictator, powerless anywhere but in his own enclave, surrounded by a hard core of true believers who brand any rational criticism as counterrevolutionary rantings.

This is, of course, not to say that there is not any truth to the Apple story. Nearly all myths have their origins in truth. Undoubtedly there are many visionary entrepreneurs who, through their creativity, imagination, and hard work, have made incredible contributions both to society and the world of commerce; Apple is no exception.

But times change (shit happens), the world moves on, and if a revolution is to succeed in the long run, it must change as well. It must be willing to engage in serious analysis, to accept criticism (indeed, to criticize itself), and to make the necessary changes, no matter how painful they might be. Apple created a myth to guide its growth, and for awhile it worked just fine. But Apple and its followers made the mistake of believing too strongly in their own myth. So when the outside world gave them the sound, rational advice to position their product as an open system (along with much other sound advice), they couldn't do it, seeing it as the equivalent to turning over the Mosque to the Infidels.

Rational analysis of Apple's problems, as well as the problems of other corporations, is also hindered by another belief system, what I like to call the cult of the manager. The cult of the manager sees management as the true vanguard of the capitalist revolution, and armed as it is with its superior science of management, as being unable to do no wrong. This too had a rebirth in the Reagan years, although it also has a long pedigree in American history. America's defeat in Viet Nam gave the lie to the belief that war could be scientifically managed like a corporation; remember the "Whiz Kids" from Ford and their "body counts" and "kill ratios?" As a regular reader of the business press for many years, I have noticed that it is rare that business problems or failures are attributed to mismanagement. Mysterious market forces, governmental interference, unions, lazy workers, unfair competitors, meddlesome investors, unscrupulous Asians, high taxes, inflexible regulations, unenlightened consumers, etc., are blamed for failure; rarely is it the fault of incompetent management.

The undeniable reality is that mismanagement is a business cost for virtually every corporation; somewhere, at some point in time, upper management, middle management, or lower management makes mistakes. Most companies are able to keep those costs under control, i.e., keep such mismanagement to a minimum and/or root it out. For others, like Apple, it spirals out of control as management, particularly upper management (and its fanatical supporters), blames everyone but themselves for their problems. Management runs the company; that's where the buck stops. In the final analysis it is management who must take responsibility for what has gone wrong. Anything short of that is not only irresponsible, but pathetic as well.

Instead of attacking reasonable critics like yourself, who both have the ability and the integrity to tell the truth, the Apple fanatics should, if it's not too late (and I think it probably is), attack the incompetent managers who created the mess in the first place.

So, Mr. Winer, keep up the good work. And enjoy yourself at your party, you deserve it.

This page was last built on Thu, Jul 17, 1997 at 11:43:35 PM with Frontier. Internet service provided by Conxion. © copyright 1997 Dave Winer.