Much has been written by others about the challenge Apple faces in “replacing” Steve Jobs. Those pundits miss the key challenge for Apple. It is not about the brand or the personality; it’s about the innovation archetype Apple is built on, and how it will innovate going forward. In their 2007 Harvard Business Review article, Steve Wunker and George Pohle, describe four successful innovation archetypes. Apple’s innovation archetype is what they call The Visionary Leader.
Apple’s entire history of innovation and its culture is based on this archetype, and Steve Jobs has been the visionary and the leader. When John Scully temporarily replaced Steve, the company failed to innovate because, while Steve was still the visionary (though John might have tried to be), he was no longer the leader.
With Steve’s passing he is no longer available to fill either role. Apple may have a visionary available in Jonathan Ive, but he is not the leader, nor is it likely the people of Apple will see him as such, no matter his title. So, Apple has a dilemma. Their innovation culture is based on a visionary leader who is gone and not replaceable from inside. Their current leader is not a visionary and their current visionary is not accepted as their leader, so they have to change archetypes, which requires a culture change.
Fundamental culture change is probably the most difficult task a CEO can undertake and usually ends in failure. Carly Fiorna lost her job at HP largely due to her belief that the culture needed to be changed and she failed to make it happen.
Can Tim Cook, or anyone, succeed in changing Apple’s culture and innovation archetype? Not likely without a crisis. People resist change until they recognize they are in a crisis. Will Apple survive? Probably, and maybe as an independent company. Given their huge market cap, it may seem odd to believe they might be acquired, but I believe their market cap is in for a large fall over time because the crisis they need to drive the change required to become innovative again is likely to wreck havoc on their stock price.
Time will tell.