Much has been written about Apple founder Steve Jobs since he died last week. The adjectives describing him have been numerous. This Silicon Valley icon has been described as an innovator, a visionary, inspirational, and the best entrepreneur ever.
But Mr. Jobs’ death has also raised questions about the future of the company he cofounded in 1976. That seems almost unbelievable to me — that the loss of one person could call into question the future of a company with a market capitalization of $342 billion. Yes, that’s billion. One guy. A company with more than 46,000 employees. And the loss of one guy might lead to its demise!
I’ve always been a big believer that NO ONE is irreplaceable. When you lose a key person, even a star performer, you won’t be able to find the exact same mix of talents, but you certainly can find someone just as strong. I’ve seen many “indispensable” people leave a job and, somehow, the company continues without them. I’ve seen plenty of people who were “irreplaceable” — be, well, replaced. It’s just not as hard as some people make it out to be.
I was a believer — until now. I, for one, think that Steve Jobs is that rare individual who is so valuable that replacing him is going to be impossible. We’ve seen Apple without him and it’s definitely better with him. He brought a clear vision to Apple, but we’ve seen other visionaries leave companies and the businesses continue to succeed. He was passionate about his company and its products, but other CEOs are passionate and their companies are able to move forward after they leave the helm.
What set Steve Jobs apart from other executives is that he was an innovator unlike anyone I’ve seen in my lifetime. He didn’t just make products, he made products that changed the way we live. He designed and made products with consumers in mind, and they loved him for it.
Here’s how David Gelernter, professor of computer science at Yale University, described him in a Wall Street Journal piece last week: “Jobs was always designer-in-chief. He knew from the start that his task was to tell engineers, ‘here’s how it should look, sound, feel; here’s how the controls should work; it should be this big and cost that much. Now do it. Let me know when you’re finished.’” Jobs intuitively knew what the consumer wanted and he made sure it got built.
Beginning with the Apple Macintosh in 1984, he launched a series of products that changed our world. The Apple Macintosh changed the world of computing, and its effect can been seen on every desktop in the world today, regardless of the brand of computer sitting on it. The computer went from being a large, complex piece of machinery to a cool tool accessible by anyone.
The iPod changed the way we consume music and forever changed the music industry. This nifty little invention allowed people to download only the songs they wanted to hear, instead of purchasing a group of songs packaged as a set to get to the one or two they really wanted. Consumers loved him for it and the music industry cursed him for it.
Then came the iPhone and the iPad. Again, Steve Jobs knew what his customers wanted and was able to provide it before anyone else. Now there are a plethora of smartphones and tablets, but Jobs was the one who got it right. He was truly an innovator.
There are many things about business we can learn from Steve Jobs. Here are a few questions inspired by his approach to business for your consideration:
- What’s really achievable in my business if I challenge the conventional wisdom and dream about what’s possible?
- What is it, regardless of how crazy it seems, that my customers really want and how can I build it?
- How can I simplify what is a complex product or process so that anyone can use and enjoy what we do?
- What are my competitors doing that we can do better through a clear vision and simplicity?
- How can I harness both technology and creativity to change the face of our business or even industry?
Steve Jobs has been called the greatest American innovator since Thomas Edison. Like Edison, his contributions have changed the lives of people worldwide and will continue to do so for generations to come. Now that’s a legacy!