Apple selects its corporate partners very carefully. Like any company that’s been around for a while, those decisions haven’t all been great. But by and large, it calculates against brutally honest internal evaluations and creates relationships to build (or outright acquires) technologies or capabilities that it lacks.
The ability to do this effectively comes directly from understanding your own weaknesses and being able to recognize when your culture doesn’t mesh with the things you want to accomplish. In Apple’s case, the best recent example of this phenomenon is its partnership with IBM. Apple has been increasing support for enterprise technologies significantly over the past decade, especially on iOS, but there’s a fundamental disconnect between its core values as a company focused on consumer experience and what it’s willing to do for business customers–and what those customers have come to expect from large-scale vendors. By partnering with IBM, Apple gains the ability to further penetrate the enterprise hardware market without having to sacrifice the one-on-one Apple retail service for which it’s renowned. IBM does the dirty work of the on-the-ground relationship management and support, and Apple sells more of its hardware directly into those sales channels–something it couldn’t have done on its own.
Apple saw an avenue to increase sales, but wasn’t willing to lose the parts of itself that define what it would consider an “Apple experience”, so it found an ally to bear that weight. There are plenty of analogs to this in our own companies and experiences. In many cases, this involves identifying parts of your business that aren’t core competencies for your company. Sometimes this is an easy decision, but sometimes it’s also a painful revelation about the plans you made and the path you took. Sometimes it ends up costing money–a lot of money. But the price exacted on the company if you fail to be honest about what’s happening is always bound to be higher. The key is to always critically evaluate your weaknesses and find a way to mitigate them before they take a toll on your output, your culture, or your bottom line. If you can learn to self-examine effectively and make tough choices when they need to be made, the net effect is that the time you spend worrying about how to fix a problem is funneled into something more worthy of your time. Like doing better work, which will reward your effort (and please your customers) far more than suffering with problems you can’t solve.