Imagine an organization that’s loved by its devoted, cultlike followers, but despised by haters. The close working relationship between its mercurial leader and one of the greatest talents in the field led to an unprecedented run of success. Even the occasional “-gate” style controversy failed to dent its success. But despite all this, analysts still question its long-term viability.
I’m referring, of course, to the New England Patriots. They may not be in the NFL playoffs this year, but people just can’t stop talking about the Pats. Kinda like the way everyone talked about Apple at CES last week, even though it barely attended.
Love them or hate them, the Patriots are the Apple of football.
Why do haters hate? Tall poppy syndrome
The trouble with success is that it breeds jealousy. Any organization that achieves consistent excellence, outshining its peers, will catch the eye of detractors. This phenomenon is so well known, there’s even a term for it: tall poppy syndrome.
The media are especially susceptible to tall poppy syndrome because journalists want to tell interesting stories. “Still doing great” just doesn’t make a good hot take. “How the mighty have fallen” and “David slays Goliath” are far more compelling narratives when it comes to outfits like Apple and the Pats.
As a result, minor imperfections in Apple products end up blown out of all proportion. (See Antennagate and Bendgate). In the real world, these “-gates” were a non-issue. And yet they attracted wall-to-wall press coverage.
Conversely, screwups by competitors are all but ignored. Take Samsung’s Galaxy Fold, a phone so glitchy that the review units were recalled and the launch postponed. And yet this got far less coverage.
The Patriots also endured their share of ‘-gates’
Even after it had been scientifically established that there was no foul play involved in the pressure in Brady’s balls, the media still would not let Deflategate lie. The general sentiment seemed to be that the Patriots must be cheating because no one can actually be that good.
Those doubts linger around Apple, too. Despite its stratospheric growth in recent years, analysts continue to question whether Apple still has its old mojo.
Bill Belichick is the Steve Jobs of football
Although haters might not want to accept it, the continued success of Apple and the Patriots is actually due to hard work rather than cheating. Both organizations place a huge emphasis on their unrelenting work ethic.
Turn up late to a Patriots practice and you can expect to be benched by head coach Bill Belichick, even if you’re a star player. Similarly, Steve Jobs expected an exceptional level of commitment from Apple employees. During keynote presentations, Jobs regularly praised his team for the the evenings and weekends they sacrificed to produce such great products.
Belichick’s “do your job” catchphrase could come straight out of the Steve Jobs playbook.
‘On to Cincinnati’ is the football equivalent of never commenting on unannounced products
Like Jobs, Belichick has a reputation for not suffering fools gladly and always wanting to control the narrative. During Patriots pressers, you get the feeling the coach would rather be anywhere else. He has no time for idle speculation.
After an unexpected blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, which resulted in Brady getting benched in the final quarter of the game, the media demanded answers. In particular, they wanted to know what this meant for the position of starting quarterback. Belichick refused to answer any of these questions, repeating instead a refrain for which he has now become famous: “On to Cincinnati.” In other words, he was only prepared to discuss the Patriots’ next game, with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Apple’s PR team repeats a similar refrain whenever the media asks about the future. “Apple never comments on unannounced products.”
The reason for this reticence is because neither organization wants to tip its hand and give competitors time to prepare for what is coming next.
Controlling the narrative
Both Apple and the Patriots run a tight ship and go to considerable lengths to control the narrative. People who take a job at Apple tend to disappear. On the rare occasions when they do speak on the record, they usually just parrot the same approved discussion points you could find in a press release.
Similarly, even the most outspoken players become far more circumspect with their opinions when they sign with the Patriots. They tend to make guarded, carefully measured statements that sound exactly like something their head coach would say.
The rigid internal discipline of both organizations is reflected in the way they conduct themselves publicly.
No, Apple is not doomed, and neither are the Pats
I’ve lost count of the number of times analysts have claimed that Apple was doomed. Cupertino was doomed in 1985 because, unlike Microsoft, it didn’t license Mac OS. Then it was doomed in 1995 because it did. Apple was doomed because it was late to get into digital music. Then it was doomed because it was too dependent on its music business. The company was doomed because it didn’t make cheap phones to compete with Android. And it’s doomed because it doesn’t churn out major new product categories every year.
Yet despite all the naysayers prophesying doom, Apple keeps on growing and churning out hit products.
Right now, the Patriots are supposedly doomed because they didn’t make it to the Super Bowl this year. This, despite the fact that they won their division for the 11th straight year and finished the season with a respectable 12-4 record.
As Taylor Swift once said, haters gonna hate.