It’s been a couple of weeks since the passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, Inc. Tim Cook is now in charge as Apple’s CEO, and has already survived his fair share of excitement, including the release of the iPhone 4S and failure on the part of the company to live up to shareholder expectations for traditionally strong fourth quarter earnings.
Still, the question that many in the industry have been asking is: can the company’s meteoric success continue without such a dynamic and polarizing figure at the helm?
It’s safe to say that for now, the answer is yes. For all that Jobs is credited with helping to create, such as the iPhone, iMac and OS X, it’s often overlooked that his biggest creation is Apple itself. Knowing that his death was a very real possibility, the Apple co-founder took massive steps to ensure that the company would continue along a path of his choosing long after his passing.
Steve Jobs U.
Fairly credible rumors have been circling in recent days that Jobs laid out a number of discrete steps in order to guide the company through the next three to four years. What to buy, what to release, what to show, what to hold back. It has been said, in fact, that the next several generations of Apple products will still have his personal touch in terms of design and featureset.
Considering the wild popularity of most Apple products, that can only be described as a good thing.
Jobs’ touches on the company are much more fundamental than a simple action plan, however, as he took great pains to teach Apple what he sees as important. How he thinks about the design and creation of Apple products, and how he hopes and expects the company’s leadership to stay on top of their game. Within Apple’s Cupertino campus, there’s a school for the employees and executives of Apple, Inc.
Steve Jobs put as much effort into the creation of this program as he did any of Apple’s major consumer technologies. In charge of the school is a man snagged in the midst of his rise as a shining star at Yale University – former dean Joel Podolny. After making strides and getting noticed at the school, Podolny abruptly resigned not very long ago.
At first, his compatriots and employers at Yale were mystified – considering how well he was doing, he could have gone very far. It wasn’t until later that word spread of his employment at Apple. Steve Jobs visited Podolny personally and asked him to come to Apple and helm the then-CEO’s latest project. To showcase the importance that Jobs placed upon Podolny’s new and unexpected role at Apple, he was given an office not too far from Jobs’ own.
The program is reportedly designed to distill the wisdom of Apple into a well-defined curriculum that can be taught to future leaders and engineers. It isn’t the first time a company has launched its own sort of internal university, a school that ensured future generations would rise up with the necessary competence to lead their companies into a new tomorrow.
Most of those, however, are long faded from memory; it simply isn’t en vogue for a corporation to have its own school – not just a school of thought, but an actual school – and so few, if any, enjoy a continued existence. Save for Apple’s own, of course, but that’s a new thing.
Tim Cook and Jony Ives
In the absence of Steve Jobs from Apple’s picture, it is crystal clear that the two men who shall wield more influence than any others in terms of how the company will now run are Tim Cook and Jonathan Ives. Jonathan Ives is responsible for many of the recent designs that have won Apple so much in terms of followers and acclaim. The U.K. designer has won multiple awards for his industrial efforts, and for no small feat – many of those designs have gone on to influence companies industrywide, from the smallest PC makers to the largest OEMs.
Steve Jobs was always a fan of forward-looking design ideas and methodologies; partner Steve Wozniak recalled one circuitboard that Jobs kept saying wasn’t good enough simply because he found the chip layout to be aesthetically displeasing. It wasn’t until Wozniak showed Jobs that re-engineering the board to fit his new guidelines would result in a substandard product that the other man relented.
One design icon from whom both Jobs and Ives took a number of cues was Dieter Rams, Chief of Design at the Braun Corporation. Braun is known today largely for the products in the personal care industry, such as electric shavers. Back in the day, however, the company enjoyed a solid reputation for its efforts in the radio, film projector, hi-fi, record player and clock markets.
Rams was famous for what he called the Ten Principles of Good Design, and after reading through them it becomes clear why Apple’s leadership look so closely to Rams for inspiration (as taken from SFMOMA’s exhibit on the career of Rams):
Good Design Is Innovative— The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
Good Design Makes a Product Useful—A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
Good Design Is Aesthetic—The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Good Design Makes A Product Understandable—It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Good Design Is Unobtrusive— Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
Good Design Is Honest— It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept
Good Design Is Long-lasting— It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail—Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly— Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible—Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
Not every single one of those can be applied to Jobs’ and Apple’s efforts, but enough can to make the parallels clear. As his days grew shorter, Jobs took steps to ensure that Ives would be able to continue his work at Apple unmolested, without meddling executives getting in the way. Ives, in his role as Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, will be allowed to go on creating the exciting designs that make so many people fall in love with Apple’s gadgets.
He’s not, however, involved in the supply-side or day-to-day operations of the company, and in his own words, has no talent for the business side of things. Instead, that role is filled by Tim Cook, now CEO of Apple. When Steve Jobs first went out of the public eye for (at the time) unknown medical complications, Tim Cook was tapped to run the company in Jobs’ absence. When Jobs resigned for good just a few weeks ago, he asked the board to implement the succession plan and make Cook CEO permanently – a move to which the board obviously agreed.
Cook is known, in his own way, for being just as demanding a taskmaster to his employees as was Jobs. Already stories are spreading about how Cook is strict enough to make some employees cry. Like Jobs, Tim Cook seems to demand nothing less than the best from those beneath him, and woe to anyone unable or unwilling to rise to the occasion.
The new CEO is known for more than his hard driving tactics, however, as those aren’t what got him chosen in the first place. In fact, the man has a reputation for being a genius in the business side of Apple’s operations, blazing new partnerships and strategic alliances. While that aspect of the company doesn’t get nearly as much press as the fact that the latest iPhone has a robotic companion, it is an absolutely vital component to the company’s success.
Steve Jobs may be gone, but between Tim Cook and Jonathan Ives, are much of what has made Apple successful in recent years. On top of that, the internal school is there to train the next generation of employees about how to succeed at doing what makes Apple so great. In terms of leadership, Apple’s future seems secure, at least for the next several years.
What about their products?
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