Bottling the Jobs lightning
The resignation of Steve Jobs caps a frenetic fortnight of tech news, and it really puts the Googorola union and HP’s webOS-icide in perspective – this is easily the biggest tech story of the year, and depending on events, it could very well be seen as a turning point in the industry in years to come.
There has been a deluge of analysis already – Karlin Lillington, John Collins and Danny O’Brien offer good reflections in today’s paper (and I have a piece on the emotional tenor of the reaction in tomorrow’s Weekend Review).
A lot of the discussion has focused on where Apple goes from here, and how they can maintain the extraordinary streak of innovation of the past decade – the last time Jobs left Apple, after all, the company didn’t fare so well. The feeling that Apple is a vehicle for Jobs’s genius, and without him it will be like a car that’s lost its driver, is widespread.
One hint that Jobs has taken as much care in crafting his company as he has taken in crafting his products came with a fascinating detail in a Fortune profile of the company back in May (no link, I’m afraid, Fortune kept this one subscriber only, though PC World did a summary). In 2008, Fortune reported, Jobs lured Joel Podolny from his role as dean of the Yale Management School to set up Apple University. At the time, many Apple-watchers envisioned an extension of iTunesU, a series of downloadable lectures from international universities, but the Fortune piece revealed that it was actually an internal programme that was attempting to codify the culture of the company as Jobs had created it.
Podolny’s job was to observe the decision-making processes of Jobs and his lieutenants and develop a curriculum to teach this unique business philosophy to future employees.
As the Fortune article put it, “Jobs even is ensuring that his teachings are being collected, curated, and preserved so that future generations of Apple’s leaders can consult and interpret them,” which makes them sound like a religious manuscript, the fabled Book of Jobs.
In some ways, such an effort is like trying to bottle lightning, but the long-term future of the company could very well depend on Apple University’s success.