Too Soon

It was just a few weeks ago that everyone was writing about Steve Jobs' resignation. The implication was clear, but I had hoped he would have more time. There have been lots of articles written. The Economist wrote a particularly powerful one.

Steve was unique. Apple cannot replace him, and I don't think that they should try. He was a messiah. Within the company there was a cultish reverence towards him. He was famously difficult to work for and unrelentingly demanding of perfection. I interviewed for jobs with him 3 times: once before he was fired, once at NeXT, and once after he returned. Each was a long lunch at The Good Earth. Each was a wonderful, intriguing conversation, but I left each thinking "no, I can't work for this man: he's mad!". That visionary madness drove him and his company with a tremendous force. He was personally not an engineer or a designer, but he had a tremendous sense for excellence. Many companies use "focus groups" to help them refine products, but not Apple: they just had Steve. He was often criticized for being a "control freak", but that was all in pursuit of excellence: anything out of his control was out of his ability to improve. He didn't just have a sense for Apple's products, he had a sense for Apple's customers and what would delight them. As much as he was devoted to Apple, he was more devoted to Apple's customers. One of the biggest drivers of Apple's success in recent years is the delight their customers feel in every part of the process, even something as simple as opening a box is thought through carefully. Every detail matters.

So what is a Post-Steve Apple? Even though everyone there has been mentally preparing for this moment, it is still a shock. Will Apple crystalize and just repeat the playbook? That will be successful for a few years, but it will eventually veer off. They collectively need to find a new way. There won't be a new Steve. There will certainly be apostolic claimants, but they won't be Steve. The New Apple will have to be a collective result of Steve's teaching to each employee individually. His pursuit of excellence will no longer be imposed - it now has to come from the hearts of everyone.

It is a new world.

October 6, 2011