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Asking Tim Cook the right questions

Asking Tim Cook the right questions

Matthew Panzarino over at The Next Web has a really insightful piece up discussing how interviewers and analysts afforded the chance to ask Apple CEO Tim Cook questions aren't really taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Following Tim Cook's interview at this year's All Things D conference, there seemed to be a collective yawn from people who found Cook's time on stage to be particularly uninteresting and not terribly informative.

Adam Lashinsky, who perhaps went a bit overboard in his critique, penned a piece titled, "The unbearable lightness of what Tim Cook says."

Here's a snippet:

It is a strange sight to see the CEO of Apple, a company known for its brilliance and vision, decline over and over to discuss just about anything in any detail. It was the second year in a row Cook opened the prestigious AllthingsD conference and the second year in a row he divulged precious little about what is going on at Apple.

Panzarino posits that maybe we're asking Tim Cook the wrong questions, and I'm inclined to agree.

It's no secret that Apple is a notoriously secretive company. While some companies in the tech world like making grand announcements about products still in development or talking about internal strategies, Apple shuns doing so like the plague.

Apple views product secrecy as a competitive advantage, and any interviewer who knows even a little about Apple should know that its executives will not, under any circumstance, talk about what new products they have in the pipeline.

And yet, without fail, every time Tim Cook is open to fielding questions, we hear an endless stream of questions about the iWatch, future iPhone models and Apple's mythical HDTV. In response to these somewhat generic questions, Tim Cook feeds us generic answers.

I mean, what else do you expect him to do?

Then of course, there are often asked questions which never lead to anywhere interesting. "Is Apple less cool of a company than it used to be?" "Is Apple looking at any big acquisition these days?"

At this point, I could probably predict half of Tim Cook's answers in an interview before the questions are even asked.

Do any of these gems sound familiar?

"We are focused on delighting our customers."

"Apple is the world's most innovative company."

"When you work on hardware, software and services together, that's where the magic happens."

Yawn.

But here's the thing about Cook -- if you get beyond trying to figure out what products Apple will release next, he actually has a lot of interesting things to say.

Panzarino writes:

But these days [interviewers] are almost beholden to ask the "what's next" questions that everyone expects every year. If they don't ask them, everyone will complain about them not doing so, and yet everyone complains when the same questions get the same non-answers. It's got to be a tough position to be in. But my feeling on this, and I think that it's shared by people both inside and outside of Apple, is that it's time to start asking him better stuff.

I couldn't agree more.

If we look back at Tim Cook's All Things D interview, one of his most interesting answers dealt with the potential for Google Glass to succeed in the marketplace.

I think there are some positive points in the product. I think it's probably more likely to appeal to certain vertical markets. ... I wear glasses because I have to. I don't know a lot of people that wear them that don't have to. They want them to be light and unobtrusive and reflect their fashion. ... I think from a mainstream point of view [glasses as wearable computing devices] are difficult to see. I think the wrist is interesting. The wrist is natural.

...

To convince people they have to wear something, it has to be incredible. If we asked a room of 20-year-olds to stand up if they're wearing a watch, I don't think anyone would stand up.

What's more, we recently posted about Tim Cook's visit to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University where he participated in the school's "Real Conversations with Real Leaders" symposium.

There, Cook opined on leadership, what makes a good collaborative environment, the importance of intuition and a whole lot more.

The takeaway here, I think, is that when Cook isn't preoccupied with evading questions about Apple's secretive product plans, he is more than capable of engaging in an interesting discussion on a wide range of topics.

There's no denying that Cook isn't as engaging or dynamic of a personality as Steve Jobs, who was effectively a walking soundbite of insight, controversy and opinion. Jobs, of course, was never prone to discussing future product plans either, but it didn't take much for him to go off on a tangent regarding some bigger picture type issue in the technology realm, whether it be the state of the music industry or the problems associated with Blu-ray licensing.

Cook, in contrast, isn't going to explore such topics unless asked directly. Admittedly, Cook isn't the most exciting speaker on the planet, but if interviewers starting asking him better questions, I imagine we'd start getting more interesting answers.

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