Jobs didn't invent all those products, but he fought for them. He took one fabled walk through Xerox PARC and saw what became the first Lisa, which morphed into the Mac. He took the category of MP3 and gave us the iPod, which today owns 70% of the market. He showed the music industry players that leadership comes from recognizing the inevitable instead of squandering their birthright as iTunes replaced Wal-Mart this year as the largest retailer of music. He took the cellular telephony industry by storm by showing what an insanely great product looked like, leaving Motorola, RIM, and the rest of the iron-benders looking like iweenies.
Apple is Jobs and Jobs is Apple. Remove Jobs from Apple and Apple begins the slow spiral down to ... mediocrity. But there is another reason we must cut Jobs a little slack. It's us. When Jobs goes, our youth is over. He is the last fighter, the one still in the ring. So if he wants to take a leave of absence or keep details of his health private, we must realize that some are given special status.
The timing for Apple couldn't be worse. Things are going to get rocky in every one of those four industries for the next three years. And, yes, there is a need to build up the Children's Crusade of management at Apple. But not now, not yet. There is too much to be done. Don't think of Apple as a company; think of it as a living person, one you have known well for 30 years. Cutting off Apple from Jobs is cutting Apple from its oxygen supply.
Gods do not take curtain calls.
Howard Anderson, founder of Yankee Group and co-founder of Battery Ventures, is currently the William Porter Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT. He can be reached at [email protected].