Steve Jobs – Culture and Innovation

Amidst all the comment about last week's announcement from Steve Jobs, many commentators have been in a rush to speculate on the future for Apple and the key elements of Jobs’ legacy.

Although it is far too early to fully appreciate how Apple will deal with the departure of it’s charismatic chief executive, amidst all the chatter and hyperbole there are some interesting viewpoints emerging that have focused on Jobs’ ability to achieve what so few leaders ever manage, the ability to develop and maintain a strong organisational culture.

In fact it can be argued that Jobs’ greatest achievement has been his ability to meld Apple’s organisational culture and commercial strategy into a clear set of core values that are well understood by everyone throughout the organisation.

A couple of excellent blog posts from HBR have touched on this. Firstly a post by Horace Dediu (here) and a second piece by James Allworth, Max Wessel, and Rob Wheeler (here) both discuss the importance of Apple's consistent culture.  

Unlike many CEOs, Jobs has not been afraid of placing something as intangible and tricky as culture at the heart of his decision-making at the expense of the more tangible metrics and quarterly numbers that cause so many other CEOs to lose sleep. It doesn’t matter how you feel about some of Apple’s practices and they certainly polarise opinion, they are consistent and crucially innovation has come about through a willingness to experiment internally and seek disruption that may come at the expense of existing product lines.

Jobs has also been able to take advantage of his position of company co-founder in being able to dictate Apple’s culture. There is no doubt that this has helped Jobs habituate his own behaviour into the mindset of Apple employees.

The paradox is that by making his own personal imprint on the culture so absolute, Jobs has probably gone as far as possible to ensure that Apple is in the best shape possible to prosper in the future. In fact the key danger facing Apple in the medium term is likely to come from events that may dilute the existing culture. For example, a large acquisition may hold more dangers than would ordinarily be perceived. For the medium term however, it would appear that Apple is well placed to flourish, not because of Jobs' brilliance as an individual but the collective values he has been able to instill in the organisation.


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