The Cook Doctrine at Apple

January 22, 2009, 8:15 PM UTC

There was a magical moment that had nothing to do with financial results Wednesday afternoon in Apple’s (AAPL) conference call with investors. What made the magic remarkable is that it came from Tim Cook, the supposedly uncharismatic, unemotional, uninspiring chief operating officer of the company, the guy whom Steve Jobs tapped to run day-to-day operations during his medical leave of absence, even though Cook already runs the company’s operations.

Asked the inevitable first question about how the company would function without Jobs, Cook let loose the following, courtesy of, a monologue I’m labeling the Cook Doctrine, that he appeared to deliver extemporaneously:

We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.

This is fascinating at a number of levels. Some of it is stuff you’d expect from anyone in Apple’s senior management. Some ideas have been articulated at Apple for years. But this shows an executive who has given tons of thought to what it means to lead Apple. He couldn’t have been clearer that he’s in charge, at least for now. It also was a show of strength, as when Cook later threatened Palm (PALM) with patent litigation.

It raised so many questions too. Other than the company’s proprietary operating systems, what technologies was Cook referring to? What are some projects Apple has considered and rejected? When has the company been wrong — and been “self-honest” about it? What’s an example of the culture being so embedded that things work, even when Jobs isn’t involved?

There is so much to learn about Apple that frankly has been obscured for so long by the cult of personality around Steve Jobs. As Cook said before beginning his series of “We believes,” it’s a place with a deep bench. Yet few have heard of the supporting cast memebers, in part for fear of their being poached, in part because its always been all about Steve.

What’s clear is that Apple’s current leader — whom I’ve admittedly spent a lot of time thinking about — is eloquent, forceful and passionate about Apple. He may be a just-the-facts operations wonk with little experience in design, marketing for products. But he’s clearly so much more as well.