Monday, October 7, 2013

He's no Steve Jobs (and maybe that's okay)

Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell reveals that new Apple CEO Tim Cook "isn't the next Steve Jobs," though he does have some reserved compliments for Cook:


"If I were to choose somebody to run international manufacturing and processing and keep the wheels on the bus, Tim Cook is about as good as anybody can get."

And this is the sort of CEO under which most companies have historically prospered: Efficient leaders who skillfully direct the efforts of others. 

The larger-than-life personalities of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (and a handful of others) have led to a collective belief that the CEO of a tech company must possess a persona. This simply isn't a practical expectation, moving forward.

Nor is this the conventional wisdom of most other industries. How many readers can, off the top of their heads, name the CEOs of Ford, Toyota, or Honda? What about the current CEO of P&G or Corning? 

I was fascinated with Steve Jobs as a visionary (though, based on what I've read, I may or may not have liked him so well as a man). But Steve Jobs was a once-in-a-century phenomenon. So was Bill Gates, for that matter. 

If the tech industry hopes to outlive its founding generation, it will need to learn to thrive as companies in other industries have thrived: And this means a diminished reliance on the "visionary leader", the business equivalent of the man on horseback. 

Most industries--even those that substantially innovate, are characterized by somewhat boring CEOs at the top, with creativity and "wow" power more evenly spread and nurtured among the ranks. 

For Apple to continue to be a great company, it can't depend on the emergence of another Steve Jobs. There will be no Second Coming. 

Rather than simply having a great leader, Apple will have to develop itself as a great company.