I am reading Steve Job’s biography by Walter Isaacsons. As I am approaching the last few chapters in the book, I am completely frozen and unable to read the chapter about his twilight days. The sheer magnitude of what Jobs has accomplished is too big to comprehend. He was not a single-hit wonder and rolled out a string of innovative products that changed the landscape in several industries. As with all human beings, he had a darker side that included bad traits like taking credit for somebody else’s ideas or abusing his team members and competitors alike. All said and done, what is really daunting to me is the thought of how Apple can replace a catalyst and visionary that can deliver game changing products in the coming years for Apple.
How do you inject the rest of the team at Apple with Job’s DNA (the good ones specifically)? Also, would it be prudent to wish away the bad traits as they don’t conform to standards of behavior?
It seems Jobs was acutely aware of how closely his destiny was tied to that of Apple’s and vice-versa. Quoting from his autobiography, “In order to institutionalize the lessons he and his team were learning, Jobs started an in-house center called the “Apple University”. He hired Joel Podolny, who was the dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time, teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.
Management Schools, Medical Schools, and Law Schools use the case study approach to drive home important lessons in the respective domains. However, one should also guard against drinking too much of the same cool-aid. Jobs was an iconoclast. He did what he thought was right and did not care about what others thought about his lifestyle. He saw the world in black and white. You were either great or complete sh**. He had a “take no prisoners” approach at work. The many drawbacks that we know Jobs had actually shaped his thinking and his perception of his team members and his competition. These perceptions shaped his vision. Often, case studies focus on decisions made in the past but rarely focuses on the traits of the individuals in the case studies. I am afraid the Apple University initiative, while necessary, will not be able to stop the gradual demise of the spark that makes Apple a company that many of us worship. I hope Job’s successors at Apple always remember the Job’s commencement speech at the Stanford University and remain foolish and thirsty.
I may be passing a judgement on Apple University by just reading a paragraph about it. But I guess nobody from Apple will dare to throw more light on this (“secrecy” will remain as one of their guiding principles). In 2011, LA Times had published an article on Apple University. You can read it here.