But unfortunately the odds of this outcome are not good.
Jobs clearly had the vision and innovative ideas, but Apple was successful because Jobs was uniquely positioned with critical decision-making authority to implement ideas to execution, to simultaneously address business excellence with technological and operational excellence.
Without a single leader with decision-making authority that Jobs had, today’s typical corporate governance structures lack the ability to integrate all these dimensions and the discipline to make difficult decisions, to determine which great ideas they are not going to pursue, to prioritize. “Lead from the front” as Cisco management often says. This is easy to say, but hard to do in actual practice in a large scale corporate environment.
The corporate Board of Directors (BOD) and shareholders are too often singularly focused on the short-term financial performance. This has the double whammy effect of 1) taking the critical decisions-making out of the hands of the innovators and technologists and placing them with the financial analysts and 2) overweighting the immediate returns over the benefits from addressing the longer-term macro market shifts.
“God is in the details” to quote Mies van der Rohe. Jobs also obsessed on the details because the greatest ideas and plans fail due to lack of focus in working out the details and operational glitches. Operational plans are too often addressed after business strategies have already been laid, and operational decisions come as an afterthought. Instead, operational strategies should be advanced simultaneously with business strategies. The dynamic nature of business, the speed of market shifts and completion do not allow for doing these in a linear sequential manner.
To quote Mies again, “less is more” and “form follows function” People often mistake the pursuit of product design as mere desire to produce beautiful objects. Just as mathematicians pursue the most elegant proof of a theorem by achieving the result with the fewest number of steps, so too should the pursuit of the most elegant product and product experience. Thanks to Jobs, Apple products are not just beautiful but elegant in this sense.
Internal process gurus charged to sort through these complexities often fail because they are more focused on the processes than the resulting products, and have become their own worst enemy by creating additional layers of bureaucracy. In the mean time, the market opportunities have moved on.
Jobs’ greatest asset was not necessarily his vision and innovative ideas, but his unique capacity to deliver great products by navigating through today’s complex corporate structures.