February 5, 2013

 In the most recent issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, an article on honesty in the workplace[1] states

“Apple has been reported to spread false rumors to throw off the press and has fired employees for leaking even most quotidian of news items.”


Well this short quote, assuming it is correct, actually involves at least two separate concepts for those of us with an interest in competitive intelligence. The first is disinformation, and the second is the impact of a founder or other powerful personality on the direction of an organization.

With respect to disinformation, again if the article is correct, the spreading of these “false rumors” is a form of disinformation. In the case of a public company, disinformation is not the same as the release of non-public information. Why? Because it is not really information. How or even whether the US Securities and Exchange Commission would go after such activity is not clear. If intended to disrupt competitors, it is hard to say that it is principally aimed at manipulating stock prices.

But in any case, as I have explained, disinformation is an exceedingly corrosive activity.

The second concept is the impact that one person can make a large, even gigantic, organization. The stories about Apple founder Steve Jobs and his impact on the culture at Apple are numerous, and I suspect in some cases are even accurate. Among them are stories about his personal domination of the organization, as well as his intensely negative attitude towards competitors. Again, this short quote reflects that.

Certainly it is true that Jobs is no longer at Apple, but the people that he trained, hired, and his allegedly handpicked successor are still there. They would not be expected to stray far from his philosophy, at least not in the short period of time that has passed since his death.

This is not to say that the passing of a strong personality or founder does not eventually lead to changes in the organization. One only has to look at the case of Walmart, which under Sam Walton was proudly declaring that all of its products work made in the USA. Now, Walmart is reportedly the largest single importer of products from China.

So what does this mean? It means that, when you were doing your own CI, you have to understand your target, and its people, and you can’t accept everything out there as the absolute truth.

[1]Christopher Bonanos, “The Lies We Tell at Work”, Bloomberg Busienssweek, Feb. 4-10, 2013.

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