Overnight there has been a flurry of discussion about Michael Lopp’s commentary about the departure of Scott Forstall from Apple and what it really means for the company. And if you’ll pardon my Shakespearean reference in the title, I think that while Lopp makes some great points—especially about collaboration and consensus—I also think Apple needs a mix of both the fire of Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall and a collaborative executive team that can work together.
As I was reading through Michael Lopp’s post (and many folks have pulled out this quote…which goes to my next point) I was thinking…this idea is very familiar:
“Close your eyes and imagine a meeting with Steve Jobs. Imagine how it proceeds and how decisions are made. Does the word collaboration ever enter your mind? Not mine. I’m just sitting there on pins and needles waiting for the guy to explode and rip us to shreds because we phoned it in on a seemingly unimportant icon.”
Something about companies needing the volatile people who will just make something work and maybe not in the best or prettiest way, but working. Well I found the post in The Magazine—Stables and Volatiles—ironically a post also written by Michael Lopp. Sorry you can’t read the whole thing without trying The Magazine (you should, BTW, try it), but here’s the thing. Michael is right, sometimes you just need someone to say, dammit I’m going off on my own like a rogue pirate and trying something else. Volatiles—and I’d put Steve Jobs and Scott Forstall in that box—can get a lot done. And if the person is pushing people to the right goals, the results can be tremendous.
However, you also need stables. You need people to take a calm, steady hand to things. The balance, the balance between the two is the tricky part. I think in the Steve Jobs era of Apple they had the right balance. Steve would rant, rave, yell, and bully…and things got done. I’m betting Tim Cook isn’t like that at all. Careful, meticulous, making sure things like manufacturing runs like clockwork. Both people were essential to Apple. Now that Steve is gone and Tim is CEO, they are adjusting. It’s just been a year folks. Changing corporate culture in just a year isn’t easy to do. It’s like asking a super tanker to stop on a dime in the harbor—it’s not going to happen without a lot of effort.
I’m not an expert at all the machination of Apple yet. Heck, I still haven’t visited the Apple campus yet, although I’ve been using Apple computers more than any other kind of computer in my 30 odd years of computing. However, I think I understand something about teams. I think you need someone, sometimes it’s the boss, sometimes not, who is the volatile. Someone to stir things up. Someone who might piss people off, but piss them off to do better. You also need stables to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Stables to do a lot of the grunt work. And stables in leadership as well to balance against the volatiles to reach the outcome everyone is shooting for.
I think Tim Cook has his volatiles and I bet there are a few in the executive suite at Apple, however I wonder if Forstall was just the wrong volatile to be around with Steve Jobs gone. If Tim couldn’t have his whole team in a room together to hash out ideas, that’s a problem. You need a cohesive team that can sit down, argue, discuss, brainstorm, spitball, and make decisions. From everything I was reading, Scott Forstall was getting in the way of making key decisions and even admitting when something about iOS just wasn’t good enough.
So Forstall is gone and Apple will change. I don’t think Apple will become a consensus-seaking, collaboration focused organization. I think even Tim Cook knows he needs the passion like Forstall has to innovate and push to the next great thing, but for Wall Street, the executive team can’t be kicking sand in each other’s faces not playing nicely in the sandbox. Innovation will come. Decisions will be made. And time will tell.
But I don’t think Apple is doomed just yet. Remember things always turn around in Act Three.