As most regular readers may know, I admire Steve Jobs for his ability to manage R&D and deliver innovative products. Here is a summary of a series of articles that might help us learn a bit more of his methods. Let us start off with INSEAD Knowledge (Apple Without Steve):
Steve Jobs was a master at the five skills of disruptive innovators. He personally excelled at connecting the unconnected, or associational thinking. He was constantly on the hunt for new insights by observing the world through the eyes of an anthropologist. He regularly networked for new ideas with people who were 180 degrees different than himself. And he constantly experimented with different prototypes of every product and service Apple ever produced. At the very core, Jobs was exceptional at asking provocative questions, ones that challenged the status quo, inside Apple and out. Put simply, Jobs thinks different because he acts different — habitually.
It is a great summary of skills we might all want to develop. However, it is easier said than done! The simple (but wrong) path would be to ask “What would Steve Do” and try to imitate. As shown by Disney (when Walt Disney passed away), imitation would inhibit innovation. Knowledge at Wharton points out that it would be a mistake to copy Jobs and suggests the following to the new CEO [Cook]:
A copy of anyone is going to come off looking bad. It will never be as good as the original, and people will spend their time focusing on the differences,” Cappelli notes. “I think [Cook] should be himself.” But when it comes to Apple’s business strategy, Cappelli says it would be unwise to depart in any significant way from the path set under Jobs. “I think a ‘steady as she goes’ approach is a good idea, and also about the only option at this point.
A better approach would be to ask “How would Steve address this situation” and “What should I do.” Jobs answer to this seems to have been Apple University (LA Times):
With Apple University, Jobs was trying to achieve something similar, people familiar with the project say. He identified tenets that he believes unleash innovation and sustain success at Apple — accountability, attention to detail, perfectionism, simplicity, secrecy. And he oversaw the creation of university-caliber courses that demonstrate how those principles translate into business strategies and operating practices.
It is a fine line though. The same article says this as well:
“It became pretty clear that Apple needed a set of educational materials so that Apple employees could learn to think and make decisions as if they were Steve Jobs.”
Another article in Knowledge @ Wharton points out that:
But there is no getting around the fact that, as it moves from a company built around one man’s vision to more of a team approach, Apple will have to start doing things differently. And beyond any leadership challenges, the company is also operating in a highly competitive and quickly evolving sector where a number of companies are grappling to take the lead on smartphones, tablets, digital music and cloud storage initiatives. “At this point, Apple has a firm, loyal customer base,” says Wharton legal studies and business ethics professor Andrea Matwyshyn. “What happens in two to three years may be different story.”
So, the idea is for the Apple executives (or all R&D managers) to be themselves. Instead of trying to imitate or think like Jobs, learn from him and bring their own unique flavor to the company:
But Apple’s success is due to more than Jobs alone, says Wharton operations and information management professor Eric Clemons. “Apple leadership has been brilliant,” he notes. “The team, clearly led by Jobs, but clearly more than Jobs alone, has become the best technology style house in the world. We pay a premium for Apple products because of how they look and how they feel foremost, and then how easy they are to use and to integrate into the rest of our technology and into our lives.”
p.s.: One last bit of useful info about small team organization structure at Apple:
Mueller’s research illustrates the challenges Apple may face as it transitions from moving product decisions primarily through Jobs to a team of executives and managers. In a study that looked at 212 knowledge workers in 25 teams ranging from three to 19 members in size, she found that larger groups at the top often “experience more coordination loss or difficulty and inefficiency.” “It is so hard to get ideas through the pipeline at large companies,” Mueller says. “Creativity is viewed as risky and the corporate culture is designed to squash creative ideas. Will the average person rising through the ranks be rewarded for being creative?