It is getting to the stage of being as predictable as the path of the Earth around the sun. Barely have a few hours passed after an Apple product announcement than people pipe up about whether “Steve” would have like this, or what he would have said about it. “Steve”, of course, being the charismatic co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs.
It has been more than five years since Steve Jobs departed the realm. And yet his restless spirit seems to wander around every Apple event, like Banquo’s in Macbeth. How else does one explain the almost endless discussion about whether he would have liked a particular product or service or whether he would have approved of a particularly strategic move… and so on. What’s more, the judgment passed at the end of such “spiritual” analysis inevitably is that Steve Jobs would not have approved of the way matters are at Apple today.
On one level, of course, this invocation of Jobs is understandable. After all, he was as much legend as flesh and blood. His presentations had a mythical quality to them, he seemed to be involved with radically revolutionary products, he had the amazing ability to figure out what people wanted before they themselves did, and well, his return to Apple remains perhaps THE comeback act in corporate history. Such people are not governed by the laws of life and death. They linger in the air long after their departure.
That said, it is also exceedingly unfair to the current management team at Apple to have the ghost of Jobs presiding over everything they do. For, all said and done, Messrs Cook and Co are very different people. It was definitely not ordained that whoever followed Jobs would have to be his exact clone or carbon copy. And for all the pessimism of the Jobs worshipping brigade (and I have been accused of being a member of it), the fact is that the management team at Apple has not done too badly in the period following Jobs’ demise. Yes, there might be the perception in some quarters that the company has not come out with the sort of “insanely great” products that came out in Jobs’ second coming at Apple, but well, check the balance sheet and market shares – Apple is not doing too badly. At all. Most companies would give a few limbs to be in its place.
Of course, this “if Jobs was here, things would be different” analysis has happened before. The Jobs’ brigade had had a go at the Apple management when he had first left the company in the mid-eighties. But those circumstances were entirely different – Jobs was very much alive and kicking (and some of his kicks were aimed at those who replaced him), and often was only too glad to talk about what the company had got wrong and what, in his opinion was the right thing to do. People actually knew what Jobs would have liked to do.
Now, they do not.
And for me, this is perhaps the most dangerous part of some critics’ penchant to use Jobs to bash Cook – the fact that these people assume that they are on the same bandwidth as Steve Jobs himself. The chances of that being the case are about as remote as these worthies having a direct life to Jobs in the afterworld. At the cost of sounding harsh, the stark fact is that most of the logic presented by Jobs’ supporters is pretty much in the “if he was around, WE THINK he would have done this” (the capitals are mine). In short, there is a lot of assumption at work here, and believe me, everyone has their own version of Steve Jobs running around in their heads.
Would things have been different if Steve Jobs had been at Apple today?
Of course, they would have.
But then they would have been different if Bill Gates had been at Apple, for that matter!
The reason is simple: no two people are exactly alike. Different people have different approaches, different ways of working, different strategies. When we last checked, cloning a person was impossible. To expect Tim Cook to be exactly like Steve Jobs is akin to expecting Paul McCartney to be exactly like John Lennon, just because they were in the same band. It does not work that way. It never does. And actually, it is never supposed to. It is called diversity. And being different.
Of course, Apple is different under Tim Cook as compared to what it was under Steve Jobs. Tim Cook does not think like Steve Jobs. He is not obliged to. He thinks…different. And surely that is appropriate at Apple, of all places.
So a gentle request to all those who keep moaning about what Steve Jobs would have done: give it a rest, folks. For your analysis is honestly more from the land of heroic fantasy than the day to day technology. We do not know what Jobs would have done today. We do not know whether he would really have liked the idea of an Apple Watch or a stylus or a larger iPhone. Actually, no one does.
The reason is simple:
No one – NO ONE – could ever think like Steve Jobs.
Don’t even pretend you can.