Steve Jobs as Henry Ford

Stevejobs064x064 Rather than Google, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other supposedly revolutionary Web 2.0 companies, The smartest firm in Silicon Valley remains the company that invented the original personal computer, Apple. And Steve Jobs, Apple’s co founder and current CEO, remains the greatest innovator of the Valley – the Henry Ford of the digital revolution. Last Friday, Apple’s second generation smartphone, the 3G iPhone, went on sale simultaneously in America and in 20 other countries around the world. Analysts expect 10 million iPhones will be sold globally in the next six months (1 million were already sold at the weekend).

With the remarkable 3G iPhone, Apple are trying to morph the cell phone, the personal computer, the television and the radio. As I argued in my Independent column this week, the 3G iPhone is Jobs’ most audacious product since he introduced the first personal computer, the Mac, in 19 84. The iPhone 3G isn’t just a phone – it’s a high speed Internet device, an online browser, a music and video entertainment system and a brilliantly innovative communications product for getting email and storing personal information. The 3G iPhone dwarfs even the iPod, Apple’s iconic digital music player, for its technological sophistication and usefulness. Everything about the product – from its touch interface to its fabulous marketing to the so-called “App Store” that supplies software for the phone’s operating system – has been meticulously conceptualized and executed.

So why, exactly, is Apple so innovative? Ironically, the company’s success disproves the open-source theories of organizations put forward by writers like New York University’s digital utopian Clay Shirky, the author of “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing” and British open-source champion Charlie Leadbeater, the author of “We-Think: The Power of Mass Creativity.” Both Shirky and Leadbeater believe, incorrectly, that we are on the verge on a new age in the democratization of organizations, that the hierarchical model of the corporation – the Henry Ford model, if you like – is history. The Internet, they say, gives everyone equal power to create software, manage information and innovate new products. Thus, to paraphrase the best-selling American writer Thomas Friedman, organizations are becoming flat.

A workplace without bosses is a wonderfully attractive theory, of course. The only problem is that this theory isn’t born out in practice. A little over a year ago, I was lucky enough to be at the Wall Street Journal's “All Things D” conference in Southern California to witness a historic live conversation between Steve Jobs, the co-founder and CEO of Apple Computer and Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. What struck me then was Jobs’ magnetic force of personality – a biblical quality that the German sociologist Max Weber called “charismatic leadership”. As Jeffrey Young and William Simon reveal in their best selling biography of Jobs, "iCon: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business", Apple is run a little bit like a religious cult and Jobs himself is a dictatorial leader notorious for terrorizing his staff, bullying the media and involving himself in the most intricate detail of product development.

Apple is revolutionizing the telecommunications, personal computer and entertainment industries, yet ironically – in its sharp organizational hierarchy and its cult of leadership -- it’s a very traditional company. Apple is a pyramidal organization in which a charismatic Jobs stands unchallenged at the very apex, Without Jobs’ visionary zeal and obsessive drive, Apple would be just another Silicon Valley company churning out me-too products. Without him, there would no personal computer, no iPod and no iPhone. The unique success of Apple disproves the open-source theory of organizations. Steve Jobs is not only the Henry Ford of the digital revolution for his innovation, but also because he’s an uncompromisingly dictatorial leader. Jobs is Ford, for his good and for his evil.

So when you get your miraculous new 3G iPhone don’t praise the Lord, praise Steve Jobs. And remember that this new-age product which is revolutionizing your life is the fruit of an organization that has more in common with a traditional religious despotism than with a modern democratic state.