Apple’s $1 trillion valuation: a lesson in keeping it simple

When Apple Inc. hit a $1 trillion market value, the response by commentators globally was, understandably, to scrutinise the firm from every conceivable angle.

Pundits predictably rehashed all the common themes that dominate the general discourse around the rise of “big tech”—ranging from comparisons to the oil industry, to the impact persuasive technologies have had on everything from democracy to mental health.

But, amid all this chatter, it was still Tim Cook’s response that was the most noteworthy.

In characteristically understated fashion, Apple’s CEO sent a memo to employees noting that, while this was an important milestone – and one to be proud of – it was “not the most important measure of success”.

These financial returns, he emphasised, were simply a consequence of the firm’s commitment to innovation and “always staying true” to its values. There’s a fine line between the profound and the platitudinous but, on this occasion, it’s fair to say that Cook found the right tone.

Since the start of the year, speculation had been growing as to which of the tech titans would cross the trillion-dollar line first. There was certainly no guarantee it would be Apple, with the likes of Amazon growing at a faster rate.

Yet what remains so striking about Apple is just how distinctive it is when compared to its peers—and Cook’s statement drives that home.

Just over two decades ago, after many false starts and years of turbulence, the company found its bearings and set forth on the path it continues to tread today. At the heart of its overhaul was a twin commitment to relentless innovation and, crucially, simplicity.

The approach was strategic: to innovate without drifting into areas that didn’t match its identity, and to be simple without being simplistic.

And that’s what comes through when you contemplate all things Apple. Simplicity runs through everything the company offers. From the name, logo, and presentation styles of both Cook and the late Steve Jobs, through to the product design and user interface on its devices.

The success of this approach, too, is deceptively simple. It has enabled Apple’s products to become ubiquitous across demographics. The elderly are now using smartphones more than ever before, and anyone who has ever seen a toddler with an iPad will know just how quickly they become masters of the touchscreen.

There has been much talk of Apple’s ingenious financial model – its asset-light strategy and approach to buybacks and cash flows – and how others have tried to mimic it. But an important lesson that often gets overlooked is how a commitment to a set of core values can guide an organisation’s ability to remain strategic, competitive and consistent.

There is an Apple-shaped lesson sitting on the table. Who’ll take a bite?