Any company is at risk when its founder dies. But Steve Jobs' death has taken much more than a founder. With Jobs gone, Apple has lost its mind.
In a seminal work, The Master and his Emissary: the divided brain and the making of the Western world, Oxford psychiatrist Dr. Iain McGilchrist details the preeminence of the brain's hemispheres. Conventional wisdom has it that the left brain is the sharp-thinking executive and the right brain is the good-for-nothing daydreamer. We've had it wrong.
McGilchrist describes a right brain that is the leading brain. With intent, it silently holds the sense of self and spirit. It is architect and poet; curator, authenticator and visionary. It has an endless capacity for expansion. On the flip side, the left brain is the managing brain. Focused on outcome, it is a reductionist using words, numbers, bullet points, logic, spreadsheets and systems to order the right brain's offerings, returning to it information that becomes knowledge, intuition and wisdom.
The left brain is gravity for the right brain's cosmos. Both are needed. Working in dynamic synergy as they should, the right and left brains are enlivened as a magnificent master mind.
For 30+ years, management has dominated business and life. The word itself shows how we have had it wrong: left-brain control systems focus solely on outcome--the bottom line--and regiment performance with so-called "best practices."
Apple has been the grand exception. As a stratospherically high-functioning master mind, Jobs led with intent: to "put a dent in the universe" with "insanely great" products (insane until seen as the right-brain propositions they are). Meanwhile, while Jobs managed a stratospherically profitable value proposition.
Near the end, Jobs sought experts to help him institutionalize his way--Apple's way. Jobs--lead inventor, "marketing department of one" and rejecter of market research--unwittingly conducted his first-ever focus group...on himself. In true management style, he thought probing questions and thinking out loud could capture the magic. But the brain keeps magic locked in the silent right brain.
Many have written that Jobs had demons; existential angst. From an early age he craved the deep quiet of the Zen state but was too intense to achieve it. His true craving was for the deep space of self and spirit...in the right brain.
His curse was his karmic x-factor. A genius too far ahead of its time never lives to see their success. But Jobs was lucky. His existential angst put him ahead of his time just-in-time. In research terms, it made him a "sample of one."
Jobs and his inventions came of age when a management-driven culture became the new world order, trampling the right brain and spawning existential angst...in almost everyone. Simultaneously, the new reality became "I feel therefore I am," and--while pressured to do instead of be--people began to outsource their feelings to consumption.
This is the transcendent moment: Apple became Apple when Jobs brought "post-computer products" to the world. While Jobs thought the iPod was "a thousand songs in your pocket," its magic came from giving people a thousand feelings in their pocket. The iPod was a bank of feelings; each playlist an account: finish line, heart ache, boredom.
Jobs had been a "sample of one," but succeeded as the "sample of everyone." Market research be damned. He knew how he wanted to feel. It let him make products for anyone who wanted to feel it too...and the market for those feelings proved to be staggeringly big; beyond imaging.
For 25 years I have worked to discover, understand, and measure feelings. My guess is that Jobs intuitively recognized that feeling was what really mattered, and that he alone could sense when a product felt right. Jobs' colleagues have said he "loved" products and "fondled" prototypes, driving engineers to perfect design nuances three and four levels beyond their apprehension.
His "data" probably came in the form of an instantaneous and supreme moment of silence when the just-right right edge or a micron's difference in smoothness felt right. Jobs alone held the Holy Grail.
In his early life, a spiritual guru assured Jobs he could pursue a business career without losing touch with his spirit. It seems likely that Jobs never knew he could only invent the products that made Apple's galactic success because he did both at once.
In an efficient move Jobs outsourced the left-brain management imperative to Tim Cook, leaving Jobs to focus tightly on his right brain, the source of those inspired products and iconic advertising.
He let the products speak for themselves. Silent, consummately right-brain advertising telegraphed transcendent meaning. He let the right brain speak in images and icons; invoking Einstein, Picasso, Ghandi, Henson--master minds all (genius requires both sides of the brain). "Think different" was a brain twister not a sentence. iPod dancers were silhouetted in a neon world or their own. iPhone's light touch liberated people while keeping them at the center of their universe. The iPad let them build a world all their own.
And then he died. And Apple lost its mind. You can see it in nearly every post-Jobs era move Apple has made.
Apple's marketing today? Words. The left brain tells us what Apple products will do for us. (Doing is the left brain; being is the right.) Worse: they tell us what they think we'll feel.
Granting key workers 10% of their time for blue-sky work means their product future is blank.
Talk of "retina displays" means Jobs' creations have quickly devolved to commodities. Competitors now claim parity-for-less.
There is the smell of market research. The chatty advertising is an omen: no one at One Infinite Loop knows how to keep Apple...Apple.
There's the wrong kind of innovation. Buying back shares to increase the price of the rest and borrowing money for debatable reasons and despite $140+ billion in cash, is innovating with money while they have no new product news (with likely none to come any time soon).
Now the market is losing its mind as well. Will Apple ever be insanely great again? The nagging, unspoken question: Was it ever...really?
Yes. It was. It can be again. But only if someone puts the left brain back in its place, leading Apple with one magnificent master mind.