Can One Innovator Lead to Another (And does it matter?)

August 17, 2008

Companies founded on innovation and creativity have thrived in this world from the dawn of time.  It’s easy to see that, and easy to see why.  The world needs people and businesses to come up with the new gadgets, devices, products, foods, and services that take us to the next level.  What’s the next great thing, and when do we get to have it?

Sometimes it can be tough to tell, however, if the company is innovative, or just the founder or CEO at the time.  And there can be a big difference, especially moving forward past that individual person’s tenure.

The best example I can see is Apple.  I have mentioned them before, and they continue to stand out as a truly innovative company in every move they make.  And at the top of all of that is Steve Jobs, probably one of the greatest innovators of our time.  But we saw once already that without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple suffered.  They became less exciting, and created less change.  They became stagnant.

How can a company set themselves up for future success, even after their heralded leader has moved on?  This is a question facing companies like Apple.  And the truth is, there is no surefire way to make it happen.  Potential successors may all be extremely well qualified, bright individuals.  But to replicate successful innovation from one CEO to the next is never a guarantee.

It’s a dangerous game you play when an innovative company becomes boring.  Loyal fans and customers are sure to notice.  Shareholders run scared, employees may lose focus, and everything the company built is in jeopardy.  For a company founded on innovation, a life without innovation cannot exist.

Steve Jobs will not be at Apple forever, and where will they go when he leaves this time?  In my opinion, Steve Jobs last job at Apple will be to secure a successor that is not only qualified, but shares with him the passion for new technology. 

And if it hasn’t started already, the best time to start looking is now.  Build a relationship up with your potential successor and show him the way.  Lend him your vision and knowledge of the industry and allow him to be great.  Then sit back and see if it works out, because you can do all the preparation in the world, but performance will define the future.

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