Why Apple Will Be Just Fine Without Steve Jobs

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Photo by Danny Novo

Everyone is concerned about Steve Jobs’ health, prompting the obvious question about succession plans at Apple. The company seems doomed without him. Who has the vision and drive?

But Apple will be fine without Jobs, although it won’t be the same.

Here’s why, after the jump.

From the outside, Apple doesn’t appear to have a succession plan, despite Jobs’ assurances to the contrary. He recently said there are a number of executives who could step into his shoes.

The likeliest candidate to take over is Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook, an operations mastermind who helped turn Apple into the leanest, meanest company in tech. Cook is reportedly also a driven, ambitious hard ass and taskmaster — just like his boss.

Cook is more or less invisible to the public, and everyone is wondering if he has the vision and the charisma to take the helm.

But as I argue in Inside Steve’s Brain, Jobs has turned his personality into distinct business processes at Apple, which work just fine without him overseeing them.

For example, Jobs’ perfectionism has created at Apple a unique product development process based on the rigorous prototyping of new products.

Gizmos like the iPhone do not spring fully formed from Jobs’ imagination. Rather, they are “discovered” through the creation of hundreds of prototypes, which are refined, edited and often remade. Many products are prototyped hundreds of times, and often started over from scratch. It’s one perfectionism as a prototyping process. Jobs has his input, but so do his engineers, designers, and programmers. It’s not reliant on Jobs alone — and it’s possible to imagine the process operating without him.

The best evidence that Apple will be fine is Jobs’ other company, Pixar (now owned by Disney). Both Apple and Pixar are based on the same “generate-and-test” creative process. And both are run by small, tightly-integrated ‘A Teams” that work serially on one product after another, everyone chipping in ideas and fixing problems.

Jobs never managed Pixar the same way he manages Apple — he was pretty much the absentee owner. But Pixar has produced one blockbuster after another, and it’s done so without Jobs overseeing the process.

Nonetheless, Apple without Jobs would not be the same. The most obvious difference is the man’s charisma. The company would not be as cool, and Macworld would not be the same. But Apple will survive.

24 responses to “Why Apple Will Be Just Fine Without Steve Jobs”

  1. Worth Baker says:

    i jumped, but found no “why”. tell me why!

  2. ADrian says:

    Did you forget to post why?

  3. whatjump says:

    hmm, great jump….

  4. Leander Kahney says:

    My apologies — we seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties. The body of the post has disappeared. Unfortunately, I’ve no idea what’s going on!

  5. Pete says:

    It’s back now… at least for me…

  6. Pedro Monteiro says:

    Now I’m worried (about his health, I mean).

  7. leigh says:

    I saw the body too…

    As to your thesis.. I agree, there is usually a lot of fear when a dynamic founder leaves a company. At the time, no one could have imagined a General Electric without Edison. But a big part of what enables these companies success is their founders ability to imbue their spirit into the processes as you point out in your post.

    As for a charismatic megalomaniacal leader, heck I’ll volunteer… I can see it now…

    “Aieght, see here y’all… there here is the Eyah-Phone it’s got a screen an’ stuff… and no got-damn buttons! — hey you, gecha damn boots off ma’h stage!”

    Yeah, Macworld would be different… It’s time for Barbecue y’all!

  8. Danny Novo says:

    Wow. My very own… screenshot? It is nice to get a photo credit, thanks, but all I did (as you can tell from the fading iTunes controller) is take a screenshot of the keynote as provided by Apple. Anyone can do it!

  9. Beschizza says:

    My dark horse for next Apple CEO: Stringer!

  10. imajoebob says:

    While I can see why some would be concerned about Jobs’ appearance, there are very reasonable explanations. He may be looking drawn because of the cancer treatments he went through, or is still doing. He may have made a drastic change in his diet because of the scare. Or he may be exercising a lot (a whole lot). And he’s getting older.
    I know a number of people who looked quite youthful until around fifty (+ or -). They were easily mistaken for ten years younger. All of a sudden their appearance aged about ten years in only two. It happens.

    Unfortunately it happened to my sister, who looks a lot like me. Since I’m knockin’ on the door to 50, I fear I only have another year or two left to my pretty-boy looks. Bummer.

    I’d look for somebody at Pixar for the answer. Especially somebody who also comes from NeXT.

  11. AppleSlut says:

    I’m not as optimistic about Apple’s future without Jobs. Sure he’s got the brains and the ideas, but he’s also got the connections, partnerships and personality to step on that black stage and captivate all of us – no matter which product he’s pushing. Those are big shoes to fill and it might take a group of people to replace him.

  12. Kyle says:

    A little bit of this annoys me slightly. I find that you, and most major Apple enthusiasts in general, give Steve Jobs much more credit than he actually deserves. He basically just bought Pixar and he has nothing to do with it. To say that he’s “done okay and the company has made hit after hit” is giving credit to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Pixar has produced hit after hit because of the hundreds of their animators, their movie’s creators Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird as well as others, and the years it took them to complete the movies. Steve Jobs doesn’t deserve to have any credit for what they did, he just bought the company.

    Same with Apple’s products. He doesn’t hand design the products aesthetics and design their software. He is good at marketing, has a great vision, but in the end he tells them what he wants and keeps improving it and improving it. Their are devices I want to see that if I had the money I’d direct a team to make, it doesn’t mean I created them and deserve the credit for it. This is exactly why it annoys me when Steve Jobs is credited with so much all the time just because he’s Steve Jobs.