Principal Consultant, SiliconEdge
Former Wall Street Journal technology reporter Yukari Iwatani Kane has published a new book entitled, "Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs" and I'm here to posit, that without even having cracked open one page of this book she is spot on, at least with regard to her provocative title.
"How could that title be right?"
"How can you, James, be such a pompous ass to think you know anything about Apple let alone judge Kane's book by its cover?"
"Doesn't Apple create magical products? It's true that Steve Jobs has passed on but the same great staff, the same great workers remain!"
And all of that is true.
However, to understand why the title of the book is right and why I'm right we need to honestly and objectively understand who Steve Jobs was and what made him so successful and Apple so successful under his leadership.
And leadership is an operative word here.
At the same time, we need to understand that competition doesn't operate in a vacuum so we must ask, "What made Apple's and Steve Jobs' competitors so timid? Why didn't they respond and counterstrike? Better yet, why didn't they create the iPhone type phone, the smartphone first?!"
And the answer is simply it goes back to the structure and dynamics of office politics and power within a company. The real shock should not be that Apple, with zero experience within the mobile phone industry, built and released the blockbuster iPhone but that none of the incumbent handset makers did!
Where was Nokia and their smart phone? In fact, where were the rest of the handset makers?
And that is the real shock. Not that Apple made a smartphone but that the 800-pound Gorillas gave them an opening and then didn't pounce and kill or even defend their territory.
However, if you've taken one of our related coaching or training sessions (How To Beat Silicon Valley's (and other) Fast-moving Startups At Their Own Game) or just intuitively understand Office Politics and Power (aka Organizational Politics & Power - OPP) this not only comes as no surprise but rather it both predicted and expected. And once you understand Office Politics and Power, you can quickly see and understand why and how Apple under Steve Jobs beat Sony to the next iteration of the Sony Walkman which became known as the Apple iPod.
It helps one also understand why and how Larry Ellison discussed the Net PC (in the mid-1990's) but Apple built it (the iMac), and why Apple could add some basic design features and colors to it to make a hit while intra-company rent-seeking behavior at the competition prevented them from responding or competing let alone getting that to market first.
OPP also explains why and how Jobs could do the same with Pixar while a former Disney employee, John Lasseter, who suggested as much years before Jobs ever thought about animation or rendering farms was let go (or summarily fired depending on the source one references) from Disney, only to have it all come full circle again with Disney acquiring Pixar.
And, of course, it explains some of the biggest daddy ball drops in history such as Xerox PARC and their full blown PC and related projects (which later became reflected in industry leaders like Apple, Adobe, SGI and 3Com) and Kodak with their digital camera years before the competition had one...that all went to waste...
I've talked about that in detail here, about the Myths About Steve Jobs and how is personality and ethos, while celebrated within Silicon Valley (and beyond) is actually completely anathema to traditional Valley ethos.
Reference: Steve Jobs: The Man Who Broke Every Myth & Meme In Silicon Valley & Become A Legend
The problem then, is that a company (any company, including a post-Steve Jobs Apple) needs a strong leader who is unafraid to break eggs to make omelettes and unafraid to slaughter sacred cows for burgers or even just for fun. They also need a leader who is not just unafraid but actually enjoys and even thrills in steamrolling the competition and taking the troops straight up the middle as Alexander the Great did to Darius during one the Macedonian-Persian wars.
As a further piece of evidence, one only needs to consider that the Akio Morita, the founder of Sony, was Steve Jobs while Steve Jobs was still in diapers. Moreover, Akio Morita was extremely aggressive, even actively counterattacking industry special interests who tried to have the courts block the Sony Betamax recorder. Morita was successful in defending this and in ultimately escalating this to the US Supreme Court with Sony (and consumers) coming out as the victor.
- U.S. Supreme Court: SONY CORP. v. UNIVERSAL CITY STUDIOS, INC., 464 U.S. 417 (1984)
- U.S. Supreme Court decides Universal v. Sony, as VCR usage takes off
Tim Cook being the nice great guy and "steady, paint by number operator" he is (certainly he's the first guy that I would hire or consult with to determine what color doilies to lay out for my dinner party), shares none of those characteristics with either Steve Jobs or Akio Morita.
So now lets move on to more questions regarding Job's selection of Cook as his successor.
- Did Jobs not know what made Jobs so successful?
- Did Jobs think that Cook had what Jobs did to keep Apple thriving?
- Did Jobs think that Apple now needed a "steady, paint by number operator"?
- Did ego get the best of Jobs and he wanted to forever ensure and enshrine his legacy by making sure that his successor could only perform to a level that would make people wish that and wonder what Steve Jobs would have accomplished or would be accomplishing if he were still alive?