25 Comments

Summary:

Tomorrow will mark a year since the death of Apple’s founder. Yet our industry still proclaims what he would think or do in any situation. We should follow the example of Tim Cook: while aiming to preserve Apple’s legacy, he’s still looking to the future.

steve-jobs-feature

Friday marks one year since the passing of Apple founder and cult hero Steve Jobs. But despite the valiant efforts of CEO Tim Cook to keep Apple’s focus on the future, it’s almost like Jobs never left: he’s been invoked an astonishing number of times over the past year to make a point or to shut down a debate about the company he founded — and about the job his successor is doing.

Here’s an idea about how to honor Jobs best: can we stop pretending we know what he would have done? That he would, say, fire Tim Cook, or that he would’ve had some brilliant other way of apologizing for a subpar Maps app, that he’d have a fit over Siri, or would have been infuriated by a random logo design? The insinuation is that Cook’s only correct course over the last 14 months as CEO of Apple is to properly channel Jobs.

A lot has changed at Apple since Jobs lost his battle with cancer on Oct. 5, 2011. But then again, plenty hasn’t: Apple is still the most valuable public company in the world. People still clamor to buy iPhones and iPads the first day they’re available. And people still talk more about Steve Jobs than the man who was at the helm during a 78 percent jump in Apple’s market value over that time span.

AAPL Chart

AAPL data by YCharts

Thinking different

Apple’s culture is one of those things that has changed. And that’s led by Cook, who has been able to take on arguably the hardest role in tech history as the man who succeeded Jobs and pretty convincingly make the position his own. He’s done well, too. He’s humanized Apple, and has acknowledged and embraced the company’s responsibilities as a global leader. He doesn’t appear to buy into the old “scrappy underdog” mentality at Apple that no longer applies when you’re the most influential electronics company in the business.

So when I look at Cook, I see a guy who’s keenly aware of his strengths and weaknesses. I don’t see a guy who’s scrambling to imitate Jobs or — thankfully — a guy who’s constantly consulting Jobs’ memory. And that’s a good thing.

Other than a few basics — such as the value of design over pure engineering — Jobs’ ideas aren’t magically timeless. They were a product of the circumstances under which he and the world operated. Jobs may have thought something was a terrific idea in 2011, but it doesn’t mean it’ll work in a business as rapidly changing as tech a few years or even months later. Conversely, something that seemed idiotic to Jobs in 2010 could be exactly what consumers need in 2015: remember, Jobs was initially against the idea of developers building native applications on the iPhone. That turned out to be a pretty good idea.

Jobs told Cook to do what was “right.” By all accounts, he’s doing that. Cook has behaved the way the biography of a reserved, numbers-oriented, supply-chain genius suggests he would act: He’s looked for ways to crank up Apple’s efficiency, boosted the stock and filled the coffers of investors. Cook takes the role of the emcee at Apple events, rather than the star of the show like his predecessor. His leadership style includes a lot less belittling and yelling and a lot more listening and making time for people.

And in a very short time, Cook has done plenty of things that weren’t priorities for Jobs, like a new charitable matching program, visiting Foxconn’s factory floor, and hobnobbing with D.C. politicians, for example. Neither is he simply being contrary: he’s kept up Apple’s ongoing, distracting patent suits, despite his stated distaste for litigation.

“What Would Steve Do?” A question impossible to answer

Cook knows this best of anyone, having worked with the man for almost 15 years: There’s no surefire way to predict a side Jobs would have taken in an argument or a choice he absolutely would have made.

Take the iPad mini, which appears poised for release in the next month or so. Jobs, publicly at least, inveighed against the pointlessness of small, 7-inch tablets in late 2010. But we know now that Jobs “was receptive” to the idea of a smaller iPad near the end of his life.

Really, the list could go on about things Jobs flip-flopped on: video iPods, e-books, tablets, cell phones, iPods with cameras. Revealed in a Businessweek profile on Wednesday, Jobs was apparently of the mind to remove Google search from the iPhone because he was so angry with the company’s Android strategy that he felt too closely mirrored iOS and the iPhone. But, he didn’t remove it: He changed his thinking when he reasonably realized that customers would hate it.

Cook, I think, is doing the same thing as Jobs in that way. He’s consulting his own hard-earned business sense, his experience running Apple behind the scenes for many years, the culture established at Apple, and naturally, reason and logic. As much as he probably wishes Jobs were around to consult on these matters, he realizes that would be unproductive. And that’s no way to keep Apple moving forward. “I love museums,” he told Walt Mossberg earlier this year, discussing Apple post-Jobs. “But I’m not going to live in one.”

If Cook is determined not to live that way, then why are we in the tech industry? Jobs is a person we’ll never forget, but he’s no longer with us. It’s time for the rest of us to move on.

You’re subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings

  1. Best article with Steve Jobs’ name in it all year!

  2. ridiculous article!

      1. Great article.

  3. Jack Holt, Whit.li Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Maybe it’s because Jobs can be a kind of deity to a community of people who, broadly, shun traditional religion.

  4. Jack N Fran Farrell Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Jobs didn’t know that by valuing design he was reducing the insult to human cognition because cognitive science wasn’t ready to tell him that subconscious parts of the brain have been abused by computers since IBM. Beautiful fonts, GUIs and tablets are only a start toward putting computers in their place. Like Star Trek computers need to observe and respond to our gestures and our voices we walk around.

  5. “What would Steve do?” will never end. The same thing still happens with Walt Disney and he’s been dead for decades.

    1. Matt,

      i guess the whole “what would x do” meme gets amplified pretty deeply in today’s social media centric environment.

  6. Carlos Cordero Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Agree with Jim Dempsey. Great article, Erica!

  7. Great article!

  8. Fantastic article. Let the man rest in peace.

  9. Great piece. Publications like Forbes ought to take notice. Good job Erica, this is why GigaOm is a leader!

  10. Erwin Monteyro Thursday, October 4, 2012

    Well said..

  11. ya ….truly an awesome post ,agree with Jim Dempsey,but hey no one can compare Steve jobs with Tim cook they both are different entity; Steve jobs have done his part ……now its Tim cooks time so,lets just honor his efforts to make the things best for what its know for ,than just stereotyping the work.

    Cheers

  12. I am a digital artist and as a tribute to Steve, I’ve re-created the original iPod in the browser.
    http://inventikasolutions.com/demo/iPod/

    You can use the click wheel to navigate and play songs.

    Personally I believe Apple will never be the same without Steve. Siri, Apple Maps etc haven’t set the world on fire. iPhone 5 wasn’t bad but it didn’t have that ‘one more thing’.
    I hope Apple will still come out with products that amaze us. Their strength lies in creating new and different products eg. the first Macintosh, iPhone, iPad etc. I hope they’ll continue doing that.

  13. Forget Steve Jobs, what would Brian Boitano do?

  14. “What Would Steve Do?” A question impossible to answer

    And one impossible to answer when he was alive. Not sure why everyone thinks they are experts on him now.

    Joe

  15. Great write Erica.
    I sometimes feel like people have nothing better to do so they end up talking ill about people who actually matter to the world.
    I truly believe its time to let the good man be and just make the best of what he has left us with.

  16. The Daily Currant Friday, October 5, 2012

    We have some news from Steve:

    Steve Jobs Almost Done Reinventing Heaven

    http://dailycurrant.com/2012/10/05/steve-jobs-reinventing-heaven/

  17. Agree with the positive comments thus far. Clear thought, articulately expressed. Good job.

  18. People keep writing about Jobs cause he was the only guy in the tech world that follow his own path…everyone sucks right now…zuckerberg is nothing that a guy that was at the right place at the right time..same as gates, nothing new…someone that can disrupt the tech industry several times will be the next king of tech…for now we have to wait and see who steps up to the plate…

  19. Reblogged this on projectz.

  20. Thanks Steve! It has been a long time since my apple ][ to here. Your dream and work has very much helped my dream and work become real. Deep thanks. Guy

  21. dwightseabreez Friday, October 5, 2012

    Yes ! This is a great article,, and I’m with Jim Dempsey and Erica : )

  22. Steve Jobs a human being generates hatreds and loves, but so are the large, frame time and generations.

Comments have been disabled for this post