24 August 2011

This wasn’t unexpected, it had to happen eventually. I’m not sure why it was such a shock – what I was thinking: that maybe Jobs would lead Apple until he died of old age, some 40-50 years from now. Now, of course, that thought seems blatantly naive.

It’s the sudden nature of the announcement – the tone of the letter, and Apple’s short but unecessary delay in posting the press release and updating the bios page – that bothers me. Like Jason Kottke, I can’t help assuming Jobs’ health is a factor in the timing. Like Kottke, I hope I’m wrong.

In the past we’ve seen the company falter without him. More recently, they’ve been able to sustain momentum and profitability without him in active duty, but he’s been around as figurehead. He may not have been turning the wheel, but he still wore the captain’s uniform.

The org chart at Apple may keep the products and profits coming, but it isn’t enough to hold it on course – Jobs’ course. The culture he created must be maintained. Unfortunately, it’s hard to argue against that premise that Apple’s culture was built on Jobs’ personality. (There’s a piece of Steve Jobs in every product Apple produces. The voice inside the heads of thousands of Apple developers, designers, and retail employees must have belonged to Steve Jobs, regardless of if they’d ever met him personally.)

So the million dollar – or 337 billion dollar – question is whether or not Jobs and his leadership team have been able to align Apple’s internal culture to Jobs’ principles instead of his personality. The only way we’ll know the answer is by watching.

We’ll have to watch and see how Apple Apple, Inc. really is. That’s what Steve Jobs is doing.