Thursday, August 25, 2011

Jobs steps down

Steve Jobs resigned yesterday as CEO of Apple Inc. Jobs' own announcement pretty much covers all that is publicly known.

John Gruber's take is optimistic:
Zoom out enough and you can see that the same things that define Apple’s products apply to Apple as a whole. The company itself is Apple-like. The same thought, care, and painstaking attention to detail that Steve Jobs brought to questions like “How should a computer work?”, “How should a phone work?”, “How should we buy music and apps in the digital age?” he also brought to the most important question: “How should a company that creates such things function?”
Jobs is often called a micromanager. I don't think that's quite accurate. Rather, I think he is and always has been insistent that the little things that bother him, the little things that those who are in charge of product development would otherwise tend to ignore if a deadline loomed, must always be fixed before the product ships. When Apple products ship, their shortcomings tend to be features that aren't present, not features that don't work well. Missing features can be added in updates. Badly working features are harder to correct, not least because people quickly habituate themselves to the brokenness and fixing it requires people to change their habits. Changing habits can be as irksome as the badly working feature itself was.

While I think Apple as a company has absorbed Jobs' attention to detail, I'm not so sure whether it has also learned how to break new ground on its own. I'm not sure a company can. An exceptional person can, but I don't know about a group of people.

Harry McCracken at Time has what I think is a more realistic perspective:
The post-Walt history of the Disney company is a sobering example of what can go wrong when an organization's defining leader no longer calls the shots. For years after his death in 1966, it floundered, subsisting on his leftover projects and rehashed ideas. It kept asking itself "What would Walt do?" The answers usually involved more family movies and additional theme parks. But if Walt Disney had been running the joint, chances are that he'd have pursued goals that you'd never come up with simply by trying to channel Walt Disney.
Yep. The Disney company arguably is still following the tracks that Walt laid down; it's just doing so far more profitably than it did in the immediate wake of his death. That, I aver, is how Apple will fare, and that's no knock on Apple. Unfortunately, it might not be enough to keep the company going as long as the Disney company has: tech is a far less stable environment than entertainment.

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