Steve Jobs in January 2008. Picture by Macinate. Creative Commons.
In the wake of Apple pulling out of Macworld — and the prospect that Steve Jobs may leave the company — many are wondering if Apple will survive without him.
The answer is yes, Apple will definitely survive without Steve Jobs. It may even thrive.
Here’s three reasons why, after the jump:
1. Apple Survived Without Jobs Before
We’ve been here before. In 1985, Jobs was forced out of Apple after losing a boardroom battle for the company with CEO John Sculley.
Sculley was Apple’s CEO for the 10 years, during which it became one of the biggest PC makers in the world and saw its revenues increase ten-fold –œfrom $1 billion annual revenues to $10 billion.
Of course, it all went south after that, and Apple might easily have ended in bankruptcy if Jobs hadn’t returned to save it (and lead it to much greater success.)
Of course, the entire computer industry might be very different today if Jobs had stayed on in ’85, but the point is history shows us that Apple thrived in the decade after Jobs, and will likely do so again.
2. The Routinization of Charisma
More importantly, this time around Jobs has turned his personality traits into business processes at Apple. It’s called the “routinization of charisma,” a term coined by sociologist Max Weber.
In corporations, the routinization of charisma is the process of turning a charismatic business leader’s personality traits into business processes.
Intel cofounder Robert Noyce, for example, was an exceptionally collaborative and democratic leader — two traits closely associated with the culture of Sematech, the semiconductor consortium Noyce led after retiring from Intel.
Sematech’s exceptionally collaborative culture was a direct consequence of Noyce’s collaborative leadership, according to management experts J Beyer & L Browning, who closely studied the consortium to create a widely-cited case study about the routinization of charisma. (Transforming an industry in crisis: Charisma, routinization, and supportive cultural leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 1999.)
Most importantly, the collaborative culture survived well after Noyce’s untimely death, because it had become so entrenched in the organization’s culture. The “cooperative and democratic practices survive Noyce’s death and still persist,” Beyer and Browning wrote.
Beyer and Browning concluded that if a leader’s traits become routine, they survive as company traditions. They become so deeply ingrained, they characterize the way a company does business.
At Apple, Jobs’ traits — his obsessiveness, focus and passion for innovation — have been turned into distinct processes that will ensure Apple delivers a steady stream of hit products –œ with or without him.
Jobs’ perfectionism, for example, has created a system at Apple for exhaustively prototyping everything the company does — from retail stores to new products like the iPhone.
Where Jobs once used to throw substandard work in peoples’ faces and call it “shit” until it was done right, Apple’s staff now create and test new products over and over until they measure up to Jobs’ high standards.
Products 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 man’s perfectionism instituted as a company-wide “generate-and-test” prototyping process.
Jobs has his input, of course, but so do his engineers, designers, and programmers. It’s not reliant on Jobs alone and it’s possible to imagine the process operating just fine without him.
During the last dozen years he has been at the helm, Jobs’ personality traits have become so ingrained at Apple, the company will continue to turn out well-designed products, simple user interfaces, and a business culture focused on customer experience.
This is the focus of my book, of course, but others have recently come to the same conclusion.
“Steve Jobs’ spirit has been institutionalized,” writes AppleInsider, reporting an investor note from Kaufman Brothers analyst Shaw Wu. According to Wu, Jobs’ spirit and drive has been instilled in thousands of Apple employees, especially the executive team.
“We believe Apple today has a deep bench and its culture of innovation and execution or ‘spirit’ has more or less been institutionalized,” he wrote.
Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster made essentially the same point about Apple’s executive team in a mid-December research note.
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 that allows products to be discovered during the prototyping process.
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.