Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

How do you start your day?

A stagger to the bathroom, a quick shower, and a wander to Starbucks?

That doesn't seem to be quite Tim Cook's routine.

The Apple CEO recently gave an interview to Axios, in which he revealed a little of his early hours.

He gets up, he said, just before 4 a.m.

How can anyone do this on a regular basis? If I have to get up at four, it's usually to catch a plane. It's usually accompanied by a grisly mood and a desperate need for coffee.

It's definitely not accompanied by an enthusiasm for work. Or even for thinking.

Cook, though, told Axios: 

I like to take the first hour and go through user comments and things like this that sort of focus on the external people that are so important to us.

Please conceive one of the world's most famous CEOs sitting there, while it's still dark outside, reading about how some of his customers loathe how Apple has dropped the replacement nib for the Apple Pencil.

Or how Cupertino only provides 5GB of cloud storage.

Would you enjoy starting your day listening to several thousand humans gripe into your ears, even if there are also a few praising your latest phones to the heavens?

Yet, if Cook is to be believed, he's addressing the simplest core idea of running a business. 

If you don't know what your customers are thinking about your product, how can you hope to please them?

Steve Jobs was well known to occasionally answer customer questions or complaints personally. Cook does the same. (At least, you hope it's not a PR person doing it for him.)

No, I can't believe he spends hours doing it. I do believe, however, that there are a lot of CEOs who rely on others in their company to tell them what customers think.

You might imagine that those others could be tempted to, well, edit the truth. Or, worse, to merely commission market research that's riven with biases. 

As CEO, though, you can't afford to let that happen. You can't afford to distance yourself from your customers.

I can't help, in this context, thinking about American Airlines CEO Doug Parker. 

When it emerged that his airline was shoving more seats and tiny bathrooms into its new narrow-body plane -- the Boeing 737 MAX -- Parker freely admitted he'd never flown on one.

Worse, he couldn't believe why it would bother anyone that he hadn't.

He left the impression that profits are the only thing he cares about. While many stared wide-eyed at his blindness toward humanity, Parker was steadfast.

Indeed, it was many months before he bothered to get on the MAX. His review was, well, tepid. He said it was:

In line with U.S. carrier main cabin products with a couple of pleasant surprises.

It was the same as the others, he felt, which meant he was happy.

It's not as if Cook isn't profit-oriented. Several people who regularly do business with Apple tell me he enjoys an extreme keenness on the money side of things.

However, he understands that his business depends on real people staying emotionally committed to his brand.

So he tries to make sure he's aware of their feelings.

Even if the best time to do it is 4 a.m.

Published on: Nov 25, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.