Will Apple Learn From Yahoo? How Culture Cost Yahoo $19 Billion

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer

This week’s unimpressive announcement by Apple about the new features to be included in iOS 8 following last month’s news that Google had overtaken Apple as the worlds most valuable brand highlights how severely damaged the company’s ability to innovate has become after the loss of Steve Jobs.

Apple’s second shot at doing business without Jobs is looking a lot like the first. After Jobs was fired in 1985 the company stopped innovating and focused unsuccessfully on gaining market share in the crowded PC market where Microsoft dominated. Today’s Apple is trying to compete on features and benefits instead of inventing the future. In short, Apple has “lost it’s Why” as Simon Sinek would put it.

Jobs’ innovations helped create the personal computer industry, brought Disney back to life through Pixar, and revolutionized the music and mobile technology industries. Apple’s success has been completely dependent on the founder’s ability to innovate and unfortunately the company culture he created did not allow for innovation to be sustainable without him.

By contrast Google has created a culture that seems to breed new innovation. The 20 percent time that Google engineers are able to dedicate to innovation is responsible for products like GMail, Google News, auto-complete, and AdSense. These widely varied innovations have allowed the company to continue to grow and at the same time retain the company mission of organizing the world’s information. Google’s culture of innovation allowed it to topple Microsoft which at one time was considered a monopoly and the winner of the browser wars.

Culture is hard to change and in the case of Apple unless company leadership recognizes that it is their culture that is the problem the company will not create another break-though innovation. Similarly changing culture is exactly what Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is attempting to reinvigorate the company’s ability to innovate. The culture of Yahoo has been troubled for years and led to a loss of innovation and relevance. Despite years of investment in Yahoo Messenger, Yahoo’s culture allowed the company to lose the innovative brilliance of engineers Jan Koum and Brian Action who founded WhatsApp which was recently purchased by Facebook in a $19 billion deal.

There was a time I loved opening My Yahoo homepage with Internet Explorer, chatting with friends on Yahoo Messenger, and the beautifully designed iPhone and it’s simple user interface. Today however I find myself talking to both my phone and my laptop more often as the interface becomes less relevant and interaction becomes more natural.

In 2012 Yahoo’s board recognized the root of the company’s problems and made a bold move to address it. Apple is not nearly as damaged – yet – but will need a similarly bold move.

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