The DNA Advantage at Apple and Google

Last Updated Mar 14, 2008 8:52 AM EDT

What makes Apple and Google such dominant competitors?

It's baked into their DNA, says innovation expert Umair Haque. According to Haque, here is where their genetic instructions match up:

  • Focus on mission. "Goople" is out to change the world for the better; nothing less.
  • Commitment to excellence. Trade-off and sell-out isn't in either company's lexicon. You'll never see an advertisement on Google's home page.
  • Radical innovation and value creation in decaying industries. For Apple, think iPod, iPhone, MacBook Air -- all innovations in commodity markets.
Many companies possess bits and pieces of these attributes, but Apple and Google are born of it. The result: Extreme Competitive Advantage. Says Haque:
The key components of DNA Google and Apple share let them overthrow yesterday's stale approaches to strategy and advantage, and pursue entirely new ones with a vengeance. Goople does exactly the opposite of what orthodox strategy counsels: it makes peace where there was war, conquers through love instead of hate, listens to instead of shouts at consumers, perhaps most critically, takes huge risks to make the world better instead of avoiding risk to make it worse.
It's an interesting, provocative, unflinchingly pro-Goople post on Harvard Business that invites readers to evaluate the strategies of these companies on both a core product level and as participants in the edge economy.

Here's what I think. The DNA of these companies is not as important as the DNA of the founders. We saw what happened when Steve Jobs got marched out of Apple; the company came close to shuttering. What would happen to Google if Sergey and Larry decided to move on to the Next Big Thing?

Many companies survive the loss of their creators. William Hewlett and David Packard were able to instill the "HP Way" into the fabric of the organization -- a DNA transfer of sorts -- that guided strategic and cultural decisions long after their hands left the controls. But Apple is much more an autocracy than HP, with the Spirit of Steve seemingly behind every major strategic decision the company makes.

Can Apple and Google continue their successful runs as they have after the founders depart? Will organizational DNA carry them through?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.