In 1997, Steve Jobs returned to the floundering company he helped found, and turned it into one of the most successful tech companies in history. His recent passing leaves a huge void, as Apple had become an extension of his uncompromising drive and vision.
Steve Jobs had laser-like focus. There are numerous stories about his foibles as a person, but there can be no denying that he made a nearly superhuman effort to create technology that was both attractive as well as functional. I've posited that maybe his personality was required to accomplish what he did in the short time he was with Apple.
The question that people have been asking since Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO in August is, "How will Apple continue with Steve gone?" Well, there are rumors that Steve Jobs left a four-year product roadmap before he died. Also, Steve set up a training program to teach company executives how to think like him.
Apple still has Jonathan Ive, the industrial designer at Apple whose sense of aesthetics and simple elegance mirrored those of Steve Jobs. Even with that major advantage, however, I don't believe that a product roadmap and training program will be able to duplicate the will and imagination of Steve Jobs.
Tim Cook is an excellent administrator, and streamlined the business processes of Apple into a finely-tuned, well-oiled machine. But that's not the same thing as a man who eschewed focus groups and made himself the customer that Apple made products for. Steve Jobs wasn't afraid to be uncompromising. He wasn't afraid to say no to something he didn't like. And he demanded the best efforts from his employees. If he felt that someone hadn't put their all into developing a product, he wouldn't even look at it. He would just send them back to try again.
There are, of course, stories about what happened at Apple when Steve wasn't directly involved in the entire product development process. The MobileMe incident, which resulted in Jobs berating the development team and replacing the executive in charge, is well-known. The most successful products from Apple were directly supervised by Steve Jobs, and his imprint can be felt in the quality of those products.
So where does Apple go from here? They're still the most successful computer company in the world. They made some of the most popular consumer technology in history; game-changing technology that improved existing devices in ways that no one else had conceived of before. Can they keep that momentum without Steve Jobs?
I don't think there is any one person in the world that could embody all of the different qualities and quirks of Steve Jobs that made him so successful. Jony Ive is there for product design. Tim Cook keeps things running smoothly, but I don't see him as being the passionate, crazy, rude visionary that Steve Jobs was. They need one more person that can fill that void. Someone that can be that focus group. Someone that can browbeat the employees into giving their all. Someone that isn't afraid to take chances, and keep saying no until a product is ready to ship.
Is there someone out there like that? Someone already working at Apple, waiting to be noticed? Or someone on the outside that we don't know yet? Unless Apple can find this "missing link", they may need to reconsider their strategy. Instead of trying to be Team Steve, maybe they should consider forging their own new path for the future.
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