Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steve Jobs on "leave of absence"

Today Steve Jobs announced that his medical problems are "more complex" than he originally thought, and is going on a medical leave of absence until the end of June.

It's a sad day. Truly he's not looking very good, and I can't help but feel my heart go out to him and his family.

Nobody questions that an Apple without Steve Jobs at the epicenter will be different -- in 1997, he was basically tossed (back) onto a bloated, sinking barge*, and somehow managed to rebuild the whole thing into a sleek, giant luxury cruiseliner without sinking it. Amazing.

I've been listening to The Tao of Warren Buffet, a neat little collection of his lessons learned on investing -- which just happen to apply broadly to lots of other stuff in life.**

It's a great book, and has me thinking now: How is this change going to affect Apple as a company? How much does Steve Jobs actually do there? From what I can tell, he generally has a pretty tight grip on the wheel and rudder of the ship, and doesn't hesitate to turn hard sometimes. He's often been found turning against the "winds", and has mostly been right, and that instinct and vision is hard to replace.

You could say that pretty much anything he touches either turns to gold, or gets treated as gold, even long after the shine rubs off. His temporary replacement, Tim Cook, may well have the former, but it'll be a long time before he's earned the latter.

In fact, if you went back 2 years and inserted a Steve-Jobs-to-Tim-Cook transition in 2007 but left all the product announcements and direction from those 2 years intact, I bet half a dozen times since you'd have seen big op-ed pieces declaring Apple's glory days to be over and Tim Cook to be the failed steward of a once great empire. It's human nature to overemphasize imperfections, and when you have a big change like that it's easy to point to that as the cause, regardless of what the upside looks like.

I think it's also important to note that Steve Jobs didn't design the iMac, the iPod or the iPhone -- that was Jonathan Ive. Steve also doesn't build anything, nor does he write software. The guys doing all the design and writing the software and building the hardware are still there, doing it.

In some ways Steve just acts as a giant filter on all the garbage that inevitably gets dreamt up by engineers and designers with caffeine addictions living in Silicon Valley. Probably even from his bedroom he can still do a lot of that.

Me? The stock's down 6%, so I'm thinking of buying some.
* ... that used to be his own cute little yacht, but had a bunch of big ugly shipping containers welded onto the sides by "professional business-people" ...

** I love the one about you getting a car, then being told that it's the only car you'll ever own and it has to last the rest of your life. Any rational person hearing that would realize if it's going to last, they'd better take really good care of it. Well guess what -- that's exactly what we've got with our bodies and minds. Only one of each, and it's got to last.

Oh, and the hood's welded shut so if any of the parts go bad, we'll have to cut through the sheet metal to get to them. =)

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