Is Steve Jobs A Fool?

First, may I wish you all a Happy New Year. My goal is to make more change happen.

There is a story told by former Apple employees of Steve Jobs' instinct for self indulgence.

At 1 Infinite Loop - Apple’s Headquarters in Cupertino - there is a staff parking lot which is notable for two reasons. Its size. And the absence of pre-assigned parking spaces. The strategy being to encourage early arrivals by the simple expediency of offering a shorter walk to the office. 

Steve Jobs is not an early arriver by all accounts. But apparently overcame the penalties for this trait by parking in the spaces reserved for the handicapped. And when in a particular hurry, would park so as to occupy two of them.

This personal inelegance was finally confronted by one of his employees who posted a note on his windshield with a simple suggestion. 

‘Park Different.’

News yesterday that Steve Jobs has to take another medical leave of absence once again raises the issue of his ability to see himself contextually within the company he has built since his return in 1997. And whether Apple is anything like as well designed as the products which have made it such a vibrant business.

To date, the indications are that it is not.

I have long believed that on the day a new product is launched, Steve Jobs (with the money I’ve spent on Apple products I’m sure I’m entitled to a first name based relationship) has a clear vision of the tenth version of that device. What we are sold, is essentially a stripped down version of what Steve already has in his head for the distant future. Which makes both design and construction relatively more impactful, since the company focuses on solving macro level problems, not small iterative ones. 

Thinking on that level is extraordinarily rare since it requires combining the aspirational with the practical. A relationship that most business leaders fail to consummate. Either because they live too romantically or too functionally, and surround themselves with mirrors. Not lenses.

But while each successive Apple product introduction provides us with capabilities that are simultaneously inevitable and awe-inspiring, the management structure of the company has been infused with a particular brand of arrogance. Indestructibility.  As though days like today were not part of a future Steve has been willing to foresee.

The impact of which is that both rumors and realities of Steve’s health have a direct impact on consumer confidence and company valuation. In early trading yesterday on the New Zealand stock exchange - the only one open when news of this latest leave of absence was announced - Apple shares fell 7% in value on the news.

Because when what you’re selling is so clearly presented as one man’s vision, the risk of the man being removed is tantamount to removing the company’s entire operating strategy.

This makes Steve Jobs the equal of most owners of creative businesses who build the company around themselves. An approach which guarantees that the day they are done, so too is the company. A waste of most of that which they and those that work for them have invested.

But, Steve Jobs is a man capable of seeing the future. In ways that would make Nostradamus resentful.

That he is unwilling to incorporate his human limitations into his company’s organizational structure jeopardizes the future of his business.

That his departure, whenever it comes, will take with it the unrealized potential of possibilities the rest of us can only dream of, makes him selfish.

That he knows all this and does nothing to remedy the situation, makes him tragically human.