In which I criticize Steve Blank’s Observations about the Fate of Apple

Steve Blank has a pretty articulate post here about why Apple is doomed because Steve Jobs has left. The reasoning seems simple and sound: a brilliant visionary finds as a successor an execution-focused CEO, and the company is left to falter without that stroke of genius. Apple loses the drive to reinvent itself (as it did multiple times in the past) and instead only nurtures its cash cows leaving itself open to disruption.

Everything seems logical until you consider a few facts:

  1. Steve Jobs almost ran NeXT into the ground. And his performance at Apple (in his first incarnation) wasn’t stellar either1. This selective read of history seems problematic.
  2. The only big company CEOs that Blank doesn’t mention in the article are the founders of Google. That’s largely because the founders of Google now run mostly failed experiments at a weird company called Alphabet and it’s an execution-focused employee of theirs who runs (& excels at running) Google.
  3. The fallacy that only founders can drive change or influence products in a company. This is the same kind of thinking that’s behind the largely discredited Auteur Theory, where only the director is credited for a movie. Does that seem sensible?

The romantic notion that a brilliant founder can change the direction of a company and move mountains to build great products can be a great movie script. In fact in companies where the CEO is also the major salesperson (like Apple earlier & Tesla now), this is exacerbated because the public only sees a single face.

A real company is more complex. Dozens of human beings work hard to build great products. In good companies, disruption comes from below. An engineer with a great idea made Gmail (just for comparison, the CEO drove Google+). Somebody at Apple invented the Touch Bar to replace the ageing function keys.

Now: Apple might very well get disrupted. It might very well stop building innovative products. The examples that Steve uses definitely illustrate areas where Apple hasfallen behind (AI and Cloud Services).

But the solution is hard work, ground-up iterative innovation and continuing to solve difficult problems. Not a magic reincarnation of Jobs.