19
Jan 11

Steve Jobs and the Revolution Machine

With Steve Jobs out again on medical leave, the future of Apple automatically becomes the topic of the week (and possibly the year).

I’m concerned about Steve’s health, and wish him a speedy return. However, I’m not at all concerned about Apple’s health.

That’s because Steve’s most important accomplishment has not been any one revolution. It’s his design of a machine that manufactures revolution. That, of course, is Apple itself.

Steve started building the Revolution Machine the day he returned to the company in 1997. He well understood how Apple came to be in its near-death condition, and was determined to build a new company that would never be mediocre again. He didn’t waste a minute clearing out the dead wood, reorganizing and refocusing the troops. With iMac and subsequent products, he proved that Apple could defy all the dire predictions — but only if it entered a state of perpetual innovation.

He recruited the best and brightest, and made sure they’d never leave. (Stock options!) Now experienced over multiple revolutions, it’s the executive team that makes Apple do what it does. They share Steve’s passion, and they understand the difference between simply creating products and creating products people can love. Together, they’ve learned how to make a creative process repeatable.

Obviously, Steve’s vision is a unique part of the machine, and one that cannot be easily replaced. But his values have been instilled throughout the organization, and will be a guidepost for a long time to come.

That Steve has built a Revolution Machine is undeniable. His motivation is a bit more subjective.

Not to burst the critics’ bubbles, but he didn’t do it because he wants to take over the world, control our lives or become the richest man on earth. He did it because he loves Apple. He loves what the company stands for and feels responsible for those who work there. He wants Apple to thrive long after he retires from the scene, and remain a creative force around the world.

With the Revolution Machine in perfect working order, the chances of that are pretty darn good.

At product launches, when Steve acknowledges his executive team and/or those who helped bring Apple’s latest innovation to life, he means every word. He knows that what Apple does could never happen without them. He also knows that it will keep happening with them.

All that aside though … get well, Steve.

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  • But for how many years will Apple remember these lessons without Steve there? As an example, Disney sure isn’t Disney anymore without Walt… I mean, Walt never would have allowed California Adventure to be created, and he certainly wouldn’t have allowed the money-losing Disney Stores to open up everywhere. And he would cringe at what is passing for entertainment on The Disney Channel.

  • Scott

    Well said as usual Ken. I think the group in place now is strong enough to keep the revolution machine going for years to come and have the ability to continue to higher great talent to insure that Apple stays on the right path. Disney is a whole other animal. Thankfully Steve is the majority share holder there.

  • ken segall

    What’s with all the Scotts?

    @Scott Rose:
    Fair point. It’s all conjecture, obviously. One difference is that Disney grew into a giant after Walt’s time. Apple’s already a giant — somehow it got that way by holding onto certain small-company values. Clearly they’ll be asking the “What would Steve do?” many years after Steve retires. And even then, smart people will disagree on the answer.

    Since you mentioned Walt … I do sometimes wonder how certain famous people really would behave if they were still with us. Maybe Walt would have loved the Disney Store. Maybe Hendrix would be playing Vegas. It’s hard to give up our idealized images of these people, but I suspect some would disappoint. Or am I just a cynical s.o.b.?

  • Matt

    Completely off topic…but the title of this post would be a great name for a band.

    Get well Steve!

  • Jimi

    Hendrix would NOT be playing Vegas.

    I will accept a written apology.

    The end.

  • James

    Many commentators are saying these days that Apple will continue along fine without Steve Jobs, but I disagree. There are many examples of great companies that floundered after their founder and creative leader died.

    As Scott mentioned, Disney is a good example. After he died, the well-intentioned and experienced executive staff tried to “do what Walt would have done”, but it didn’t go well at all.

    One reason is that a dynamic leader like Disney or Steve Jobs is willing to take chances and do things that everyone else says are crazy. (Remember Apple’s famous “crazy ones” commercial?). But executives who take over after a leader’s death tend to do just the opposite and lead very conservatively, constantly second-guessing what the founder would have done. (Not just my opinion; some of Disney’s former executives have said this.)

    I’m not saying that Apple will go belly-up, but it’ll never be the same.

  • ken segall

    @James:
    Nothing is a given, of course. Different companies evolve in different ways following the departure of their founders. Apple is a unique case because the company has such a distinct culture inside (employees) and outside (the cult). Any mistake made by a new leader would inevitably give rise to the “Steve wouldn’t have done that” argument, even though Steve has made some blatant miscalculations in his day.

    I agree that Apple will never be the same without Steve. I just believe that his values are so thoroughly instilled in the company that it will continue to do very well for some time to come.

  • James

    > Apple is a unique case because the company
    > has such a distinct culture

    Not trying to be argumentative, but the same thing could be said about Disney. And just because Apple’s executives understand Steve’s values doesn’t mean they can duplicate his leadership skills, charisma, intuition and so forth.

    Tim Cook, who is likely to become they next CEO, has a very different personality and skill set from Steve Jobs. Tim is extraordinarily good as a manager, but reportedly does not have the charisma, presentation skills or creativity that Steve has.

    Anyway, I hope you’re right.

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  • Muhammad Durmush

    I’m writing this 1 year after Steve Jobs passed away.

    I would say that Apple is a Jobs-centered company. The company is always related to Jobs, but not vice-versa.

    In my opinion, it’s difficult for Apple to keep gowing with the same level of momentum after Steve Jobs passed away. If we remember the fierce competition from 3 leading companies: Samsung, Microsoft & Google, we will know how difficult it would be for Apple to survive in the market.

    The key success factor is INNOVATION.