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How Tim Cook Thinks


Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. is revered among the greatest CEOs in the world today. On August 2, 2018, Cook achieved a remarkable milestone.  Apple became the first public U.S. company to reach a 1 trillion valuation. Cook stated that the market capitalization is “not the most important measure” of the company’s success.”

Financial returns are simply the result of Apple’s innovation, putting our products and customers first, and always staying true to our values.”

This is a tiny window into how Tim Cook thinks. A few years ago, I decided to analyze the thinking Cook displayed during Apple’s 2013, 2014, and 2015 first quarter conference calls when he was faced with probing analysts.

I rated each word, phrase, and sentence according to our Hierarchy of Thinking Styles (from Optimal Thinking, extraordinary positive thinking, moderate positive thinking, moderate negative thinking, extraordinary negative thinking, to totally negative thinking).

To anyone who follows Apple’s performance under Cook’s leadership, the results were not surprising.


Time and again, Tim Cook presents himself as an extraordinary positive thinker.  He often uses words like “phenomenal”, “amazing”,  “impressive”,  “remarkable”, “exceptional”, and “staggering”.  He also uses phrases like “exceptional growth”, “incredibly pleased”, “stellar quarter”, and “unprecedented customer experience”.

Extraordinary positive thinkers focus on being more than ordinary, unusually great, and outstanding. They like to explore and resolve problems and challenges, especially when others have given up or believe that the problem can’t be solved. They love to figure out how to make the impossible work. Their high energy and enthusiasm enables them to sell ideas, products and services to others. Because they are creative, flexible, and welcome change, they will find unconventional ways to help teams perform exceptionally well.

They are motivated by being more than ordinary, different from the norm, remarkable, and exceptional.

Although there are differences in how people react to situations, extraordinary positive thinkers will feel upset if they are ignored when they expect recognition for their efforts. They will also become upset if their performance is mediocre. They do not like their freedom being restricted by traditional options and when forced to conform, they can feel trapped. They do not like rigidity, strict rules and guidelines, or having to observe traditions.

Extraordinary positive thinkers demonstrate a bias towards unusual constructive actions that produce a remarkable difference.

Why Tim Cook Needs Optimal Thinking

Optimal Thinking is the mental basis of individual and corporate peak performance. This realistic thinking style enables us to maximize any decision, process, communication, and situation.

Cook uses Optimal Thinking to define his commitment to quality.

As I’ve said before, our objective has always been to make the best, not the most. And we feel we’re doing that.

Optimal Thinking is deployed to articulate Apple’s greatest accomplishments.

we’ve been selling with China Mobile now for about a week, and last week was the best week for activations we’ve ever had in China.

Cook also uses Optimal Thinking to optimize Apple’s innovation initiatives.

We have zero issue coming up with things we want to do that we think we can disrupt in a major way. The challenge is always to focus to the very few that deserve all of our energy. And we’ve always done that, and we’re continuing to do that.

How Do You Think?

If you would like to conclusively assess your thinking and compare it to how Tim Cook thinks, take the Optimal Thinking 360 Assessment now. I developed this assessment for my executive coaching clients over the course of 27 years. More than one million executives and 6500 companies have used this assessment. They discover their dominant thinking style, hierarchy of thinking, core motivation, decision-making and communication styles, and how to best deal with others.  You can take this assessment (designed for desktops and tablets) on your own as a Self-Optimization Assessment or with team members as a 360 to confirm your strengths and weaknesses, uncover your blind spots, and make the most of every situation.

The transcripts used in this article are © 2013, 2014, 2015.

Read my analysis of “How Elon Musk Thinks” (Tesla CEO and Product Architect). These posts are part of the “How CEO’s Think™” Optimal Thinking article series.

If you would like to nominate a well-known leader for a thinking analysis, feel free to include them in your comments below.

3 Responses to “How Tim Cook Thinks”

  1. Andrew Norris says:

    “Time and again, Tim Cook presents himself as an extraordinary positive thinker”. This just makes me wonder if that is actually how he thinks or how he wants to present earnings.

    I work in techm and have been an app developer on Iphones. I have watched closely Cook’s actions. Basically all he has done is make the iphone thinner, more high res. No innovation of any kind yet. The watch was hardly innovative or new, just jumping on a bandwagon. It had little innovative about it.

    I’m saying I’m not sure he is extraordinary positive – based so far at least on the kind of products Apple has launched.

    His background prior was as a Supply Chain Manager. He did very well and worked hard / was reliable. But typically innovative people are not attracted to those roles.

    He may now want to be extraordinarily positive and a visionary. But it’s possible he lacks the skills to do that, having had little experience in using these skills effectively. Job’s mistake is recommending him was assuming that doing very well in one area, would mean he would do well in another. In reality there are different skills sets, and Cook is not young enough to adapt quickly to these new skills.

  2. Bob K says:

    with China’s growth slowing and questions about the iwatch, it will be interesting to see how Apple performs. Enjoyed this article and agree with your evaluation. Thanks.

  3. Paul Angles says:

    This is fantastic! I’ve never read an article about Tim Cook that goes into his actual thinking style. Usually you just get the typical fluff pieces, but this is so much better.

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