This is a little hard for me. First, because I haven’t known about him as much as other tech-savvy people who follow the whole brouhaha of the tech world closely. Second, because what I’m about to posit here is so different than the current majority of existing opinions.
Yep, it’s about Steve Jobs. Or to be more exact, the man as I knew him to be.
When the whole world was mourning when he passed away not long ago, my mind wandered to the ultimate destiny of Apple without him. Will the company be able to live on to his legacy? Will the company be able not only to survive, -but continue to thrive, by being “insanely different”?
Most of the articles, obituaries, blog posts, and whatnots seem to agree on this. The thinking revolves around the argument that Jobs had successfully established an ecosystem where creativity rules, where everyone in the company lives and breathes the same set of values that he had. Or in short, that the company’s living DNA had been so closely and carefully molded to resemble Mr Jobs’ paradigm of being a square peg in the round hole. This in turn, will lead to a future where the company will still at least be as successful as they are right now.
Some careful experts and analysts inserted a line that says something like “only time will tell” or “the ultimate future of Apple will remain to be uncertain”. Yet what was clearly maintained by all the writings that I read is that Apple will not suffer because of Mr Jobs’ demise.
I am saying the opposite. I believe that with Steve’s passing away, it spelled a beginning of the end for Apple. I think that starting from October 2011, Apple is starting to take steps toward slow, steady decline. It could be really slow, but it’s a decline nonetheless.
Now, I am using the word “decline” in a very loose sense here. It covers a whole range of scenario starting from the decline of the growth curve, down to that painful phase where a company just sits there, bleeding painfully until it meet its demise or be acquired by another company looking to salvage what they can from the ruins. At first, it may not be apparent at all because most people think of absolute decline with all the apparent indicators like stock shares and staff lay-offs. But an absolute decline must begin somewhere, and it will start with a growth decline, where a company will look okay because it continues to earn, but does not enjoy a growth that it used to have.
Here are my reasons..
First, is psychology. Mr Jobs’ genius, and Apple’s by extension, lies in one simple fact: they make people want to buy things that previously were dismissed as unnecessary. iPod is not the first MP3 player in the world, but it is the first MP3 player we ever truly wanted. Similarly, iPad is not the first tablet computer. Nor is iPhone the first smartphone ever graced the earth. I won’t dwell onto how he makes those products so coveted, because we are all familiar with the reasons why they are great products.
Yet I will argue that therein lies his curse. I am not familiar with management theory, but psychologically, there are sets of skills that can be taught and transferred, and there are those that can’t. Sadly, Steve’s innate and uncanny ability to be this maverick out-of-the box thinker is one of those that you can’t simply transfer to your kids, -let alone to a company. You’re either born with it (and carefully nurtured it in Steve’s case), or you’re not. Most of his greatness will probably be readily transferred to Apple. Things like attention to details, simplicity, and insistence on perfection. But not that thing that we call his vision. Think about it. Most of the skill sets that we need to thrive as mankind are readily transferrable, and I thank God for that, -or else we would still be living as caveman. But there are always few skills that cannot be taught just like that. This is what we instinctively labeled as brilliance. Think Da Vinci and Einstein. If their brilliance can be extracted, taught, and applied readily, today we may well be already living on some other planet.
Second, is about problem-solving. One of the biggest companies on earth, General Electric (GE), thrived for an enjoyable period of time in its beginning because it simply produces things that other companies didn’t: Electricity and the things that support it, -or derived from it. You either buy their products or opt to continue to live in the dark.
Apple’s position is different than GE. They do produce things that solve problems, and solve it in sexy ways. However, ask yourself this question: If you accidentally dropped your iPhone to the toilet, will you be doomed? Or will you be able to function temporarily with that Android phone you borrow from your teenage son? Or your aunt’s Blackberry, for that matter. True, you could lament that painstaking Blackberry OS, but survive you will.
Third, is about threats. It puzzled me why most of the writings dealing with this matter only based their projections on Apple’s strengths and weaknesses as a company. A few of them also include an exploration of opportunities as one of the external factor. But most seem reluctant to talk about threats.
Steve Jobs is an artist that made our hearts sing. I agree. But the bad news is, we are living in the era of whizkids. We got Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They were not the first people who came up with the idea of search engine, but they’re the reason why everybody is using Google now. We got Mark Zuckerberg, who was not the first man to bring social network to the world, but rather the man who makes all of us felt necessary to join his Facebook. And of course, there is Jeff Bezos.
Now, I can’t predict the future. But it’s hard for me to believe that one of this brilliant people (and rich) will not try their hands into a market where Apple is now enjoying a lion’s share. It could be the market of smartphones, tablets, or others. And when they do, -assuming there is no a visionary of Steve’s caliber at the helm of Apple-, it’s clear where my bets will lay.
With that, I am closing this post. Anybody who second-guess my motive, think again. The only reason of my premise is because of how brilliant Steve Jobs was. And indispensable. Which is why his demise could be one bite too many for Apple..