The United States of Apple

Get this – Apple, Inc. now has more money than the US Government. According to a report in the Financial Post this week, the U.S. operating balance now stands at roughly $73.8 billion compared to the $75.9 billion of cash that Apple has on hand. How is it possible that the tech giant has more money that the world’s biggest economic superpower?

We can debate debt ceilings and policy all day long, but something still strikes me here. A company that started the same year our nation was celebrating her 200th birthday is now in a stronger financial position than its home country.

How is it that a single company can become so successful, and in turn change the lives of millions of people around the world? How can a company become not just a financial powerhouse, but also an icon of innovation, design, and culture?

Jobs and team have built something much more special than a cash-creation machine. As Steve likes to say, they have truly put a “ding in the universe.” Their success isn’t rooted in number crunching, cost cutting, or audit controls. No trick-the-customer, deal-of-the-day, or Wall Street gaming. Rather, they’ve built an enduring brand and culture that is now recognized as the most valuable tech company in the world.

Here are five lessons from Apple that we can all embrace to drive success in our companies, careers, and communities:

1. Shatter Conventional Wisdom. While some ‘fraidy-cat executives cower at thought of straying outside the lines, the folks at Apple live to disrupt. They don’t waste their valuable brainstorm sessions on driving .21% incremental margin or extracting costs by using cheap materials. Instead, they direct their energy toward changing the world.

2. No Limits. In our fear-based society, we often gravitate to all the reasons something can’t be done. So often, we let imaginary barriers restrict us for reaching our true potential. Not Apple. They refuse to be derailed and let those seemingly insurmountable challenges drive their cause instead of squash their dreams.

3. Innovation Wins. The culture at Apple celebrates the risk takers. The dreamers. The creators. They realize that creativity and innovation are the lifeblood of the organization, and have built a culture and philosophy that rewards it.

4. Design Matters. The folks at Apple know that design is as important as function. Their products are beautiful works of art rather than utilitarian machinery. They focus not just on what their gear does, but how it makes their customers feel. All five senses are delighted by design, and customers are willing to pay handsomely as a result.

5. Passion First. Apple doesn’t chase money, they pursue purpose. They build products and services that they love and want to use themselves. They connect deeply to the impact they will make on customers, and follow their hearts instead of earnings-per-share. As a result, the money follows. Big time.
Apple may have more cash than our government right now, but their real value goes much deeper than their balance sheet. More than their billions, they’ve managed to build a culture of innovation that will continue to drive success and change the world. Maybe the US Government can learn a thing or two here. Maybe we all can.

Hey brother Jobs, can you spare a dime?

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