After all, in the 20 years since Jobs lauded that HBR article, the US economy and large US companies have come full circle. Back then, as Mr. Rappaport and Mr. Halevi reported, we were worried about the challenge from Japan. Today, it's China looming as an economic rival that dominates the headlines. In 1991, manufacturing jobs were moving overseas and the concern was the hollowing out of American industry. Today, with 9.2 percent unemployment, much of it due to losses in the US manufacturing base, those concerns have become a reality.
We have an economy that seems locked into recession, companies that make huge profits without producing goods or services that amaze and astound customers, and workers who, if they are fortunate enough to have jobs, report overwhelmingly that they hate them (unlike the Apple story, where people love their jobs and customers express their admiration for their other Jobs – Steve).
Once again, it seems, we've come to what legendary former Intel CEO Andy Grove called a "strategic inflection point": a time when a major change in the competitive environment requires a company – or an economy – to make a major adaptation to new circumstances, or risk extinction. Change or die.
So what can Apple teach us going forward – not for Apple's sake, but for ours?
"A better question might be what Apple can't teach American business," says Prof. Bob Sutton. Dr. Sutton has taught at Stanford for 28 years, grew up in the area, and even remembers as a youth delivering pizzas in Silicon Valley before it was Silicon Valley.