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How Tim Cook Thinks


Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc. is revered among the greatest CEOs in the world today. As Cook nears his 10-year tenure as Apple’s CEO,  Apple is ubiquitous throughout the globe. Cook is responsible for bringing the 5G iPhone, Apple Watch, AirPods Max, iHome and more to market. And Apple became the first company to achieve a $2 trillion valuation.

How Tim Cook thinks was evident when he spoke to the media about succeeding Apple founder, Steve Jobs recently. He declared his commitment to the Optimal Thinking philosophy “I do my best, regardless of the circumstances” when he stated:

“I have never tried to fill his shoes, not on day one and not in year 10. Because I’ve always thought they were not fillable by anyone, for one thing. Secondly, I think all of us, the challenge we all have is to be the best version of ourselves, and to keep pushing the boundaries of what the best version of yourself is. And so that’s what I’ve done.”

On September 2, 2019, Cook demonstrated Optimal Thinking when he tweeted:

Our country is strongest when everyone has the opportunity to succeed.

On August 2, 2018, when 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. He openly supports racial justice, climate change, and a fundamental right to privacy in technology.  Some 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 my Hierarchy of Thinking Styles model (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 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.

What Motivates Tim Cook?

Extraordinary positive thinkers are motivated by being more than ordinary, remarkable, outstanding, and making a difference. 

Although people react differently to situations, extraordinary positive thinkers often 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.

How Tim Cook Uses 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.

Want to Put Optimal Thinking to the Test?

If you are a CEO, senior executive or rising star who is facing an immediate challenge, I would like to prove that Optimal Thinking will give you the best chance of achieving everything you want. You will experience  consistent peak performance to best resolve your greatest challenge.

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.

10 Responses to “How Tim Cook Thinks”

  1. James H says:

    This post gave me additional insight into how Tim Cooks thinks. He’s done a great job since Steve Jobs passed away. I took your 360 assessment and it connected many dots for me. I’m far better now at leading my team. I would love to have some coaching with you.

  2. Tania Kling says:

    This analysis is fascinating. Tim Cook is not the “connect the dots” visionary leader that Steve Job was but has still pulled off extraordinary performance. I would love to see your analysis of Jeff Bezos.

  3. Paul Watson says:

    Great article – it never ceases to amaze me just how many successful people attribute a lot of their success to the power of positive thinking. How many of us stress about things that actually never happen.. I think this could be one of the keys to getting around that.


  4. Karl L says:

    This is a very interesting perspective on Tim Cook’s thinking process. Thanks for putting in the time to create this post. I found it to be very informative.

  5. Bob Adams says:

    Great article Rosalene. I’ve followed you for 10 years and implemented many of your concepts. I see Cook as a mix of extraordinary positive thinking (leading a company to steer ahead of average players) and optimal thinking. Optimal thinking gives him the maturity to set up contingency plans and maintain Apple’s stability.

  6. Thanks for your input Andrew. Tim Cook presents as an extraordinary positive thinker in earnings calls. I will perform another analysis in due time to determine consistency.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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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