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01.26.11

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After the Turtleneck

Five bits of advice for Steve Jobs' successor

By Daedalus Howell


Last week, it was announced that Apple's founder and CEO Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave, just as tech writers were running out of puns on his name. The "Patience of Jobs" and the "Getta Jobs" gags will soon be retired, not to mention "How do you like them Apples?" In the meantime, the gaping hole left behind will have to be filled by someone with the same verve, nerve and ability to swerve as the Apple cofounder.

Unfortunately, the iClone is still in beta, so we won't be seeing a shiny new Jobs-spare anytime soon. Hence, we'll have to make do with acting CEO Tim Cook, who held the position when Jobs had previously taken leave for a liver transplant. Of course, there's surely a coterie of drooling bastards who've been eyeballing Steve's job since his bout with pancreatic cancer in 2004.

Should anyone else ever get a shot at the gig, here are five tips on how to be the next visionary of Apple's eye:

1. Be iconic. Jobs is known for his black mock turtleneck and midrise blue jeans, which have made up the CEO's costume since the late '80s. This is what I like to call an "action figure outfit," meaning the costume in which one will be molded in plastic. Think Anna Wintour's sunglasses, Dali's mustache or Buckethead's bucket.

2. Be divisive. As Ricky Nelson crooned, "You can't please everybody, so you've got to please yourself," which is either about masturbating at an orgy or focusing like a laser on one's own vision. Provided your vision is in sync with market desires—or, better, foments said desire—you'll likely be on the right track. In fact, if you don't rile any sort of opposition, be that from your board, stockholders or the tech pundit of the week, you're not creating "disruptive technologies." Only, um . . . "ruptive" ones.

3. Be brilliant. It turns out you have to have the goods if you actually want to impress anyone and contort the adoration of the masses to one's favor. As sci-fi scribe Arthur C. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Think back to the prehistoric telephony you pocketed in the dark days before you first held the iPhone, and if you're honest with yourself, you'll probably recall a bit of awe and wonderment akin to being shown the magic of fire. Of course, being brilliant means being ahead of the curve, but not so far ahead as to make a wrong turn and losing your peeps on the way. Remember the Newton, Apple's ill-fated first foray into the handheld computing market, back when we still called them PDAs? ("Personal digital assistant" now sounds as quaint as "public display of affection.")

4. Re-invent the wheel. Jobs and Woz didn't invent the personal computer, they perfected it, or at least a version of it ripe for its time. Mp3 players and mobile phones? Ditto. Apple has consistently entered existing markets, improved them beyond measure and come to dominate them. When's the last time you went to a record store? Sure, Jobs and his gang might have cost the hairball brimming with alt-metal trivia behind the counter his job, but he sold you the one good Helmet track without having your to buy the whole album too.

5. Be secretive. This may sound counterintuitive in the era of Facebook and rampant lip service to corporate transparency, but, alas, it's a sure-fire way to spur conjecture, conversation and wishful thinking on the part of consumers, media and (sometimes more importantly) competitors. Consider the fact that there were at least a couple of manufacturers who dumped their own tablet lines midproduction after witnessing the marvel of the iPad last year. Jobs is so damn secretive, for example, that no one actually knows what's wrong with his health, which keeps everyone guessing and stock prices bobbing along.

"The right to privacy of a CEO about medical conditions should be outweighed by the need for disclosure under certain conditions," wrote Ben W. Heinman Jr., author of High Performance with High Integrity, about Jobs' illness in The Atlantic Online. Fat chance that'll happen, no matter who takes his place. One of the joys of driving the Apple cart, after all, is choosing when to upset it.


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