Any student of organizational theory must struggle with the question of how to assign weight to the influence of the leadership of a company. In the case of Apple, the question is:
Is Jobs is the embodiment of Apple or is Apple already Jobsian, imbued with his ethos?
John Gruber summed up the “Apple is Jobsian” argument by saying that Apple is Steve Jobs’ greatest creation and that he has been working on crafting the company as much as he has been crafting products. The result being that it’s well designed for sustainable longevity.
Apple seems to be taking positive steps to understand why it works the way it does. As I have written several times, it is one of the first 21st century companies. I worked at another – Immunex.
The hallmark of these companies is the ability to do more with less. Their efficiencies mean they stay focussed on what really works, Much of the management of Apple has internalized these values. The simple, not the complex. Admit mistakes and move on. Deep collaboration and cross pollination.
One other – something Immunex also did well – is to focus on what NOT to do. Figuring out rapidly what does not work, examining the project to see what not to do, provides opportunity savings that can be critical with small groups. Failing quickly and successfully is a key. This is something much larger companies can not do.
Margaret Wheatley said it best in her essay on The Unplanned Organization:
I also want to emphasize that emergent organizations are leader-full, not leaderless. Leaders emerge and recede as needed. Leadership is a series of behaviors rather than a role for heroes.
That is why Apple will do fine without Jobs, just as Pixar will do fine and why any 21st century organizations will succeed – the community is the leader. They can adapt to things that come at them and are resilient to changes.
20th Century companies often lived or died by their CEO. Not so for 21st Century companies. They live or die by the community that has been created.
We will see more of these as time goes on because they will be the successful organizations dealing with the complexities of this century.