Alan Kay thinks that Apple the loss of Apple's dynamic leader, Steve Jobs, may have left the company without a leader capable of making decisions.
Kay was a key member of the Xerox PARC lab that Apple's late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs visited, and came away with the idea of a graphical user interface and computer mouse. Kay joined Apple as an Apple Fellow in 1984. He also conceived the Dynabook concept, a 1972 proposal for a personal computer for children of all ages, which is predominantly what he is discussing in an interview by historian David Greelish on Techland.
Towards the end of the interview, Kay comments that organisations like Apple: "Require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed." Without this leader "no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea," he adds.
Speaking about the Dynabook and one of today's implementation of the concept - the iPad - Kay said: "The main point was for it to be able to qualitatively extend the notions of 'reading, writing, sharing, publishing, etc. of ideas' literacy to include the 'computer reading, writing, sharing, publishing of ideas' that is the computer’s special province," he added.
"This last and most important service is quite lacking in today’s computing for the general public. Apple with the iPad and iPhone goes even further and does not allow children to download an Etoy made by another child somewhere in the world. This could not be farther from the original intentions of the entire ARPA-IPTO/PARC community in the ’60s and ’70s," he said.
Kay disqualifies Apple's argument that security is a valid argument for such tight control. "Apple’s reasons for this are mostly bogus, and to the extent that security is an issue, what is insecure are the OSes supplied by the vendors (and the insecurities are the result of their own bad practices — they are not necessary)."
Kay also speaks about the Newton, another product that could be said to have borrowed from the Dynabook. "Back in the Dynabook design days I had determined pretty carefully that, while you could do a very good character recognizer, you still needed a keyboard. Apple Marketing did not want a keyboard because they feared it would then compete with the Mac. Then there was the siren’s song of trying to recognize handwriting rather than printing - and they plunged (this was a terrible decision)."
Regarding these "terrible decisions" Kay suggested: "One way to think of all of these organizations is to realize that if they require a charismatic leader who will shoot people in the knees when needed."
When a dynamic leader is absent, "it means no group can come up with a good decision and make it stick just because it is a good idea," he adds.
The suggestion that Apple needs a dynamic leader recalls the issues that emerged with Apple's executive team after the death of Steve Jobs.
Back in November 2012, an ex-Apple engineer claimed that Apple CEO Tim Cook has made a big mistake in firing Scott Forstall. Forstall was, according to Michael Lopp: "The best approximation of Steve Jobs that Apple had left".
It appears that Forstall was considered a natural successor to Jobs because he was a jerk. Lopp thought it was a good thing that Forstall wasn't liked by his colleagues. He believed that is was the tension and disagreement that helped Apple innovate.
However, reports last year claimed that Scott Forstall was 'fired' because he was so unpopular with his collegues. One report claied that Forstall was fired in a deal that meant that Bob Mansfield would return to Apple. Mansfield didn't like Forstall’s confrontational management style, apparently.
A Bloomberg report also claimed that former iPod VP Jon Rubinstein was chatting happily at a party in Silicon Valley, until Forstall’s name came up: "Then he turned away abruptly. 'Goodbye!' he said."
Reports also claimed Ive and Forstall had clashed to the point where they would refuse to be in the same room. "They didn't cooperate at any level. They always let Steve decide," claimed a Wall Street Journal source.
In addition, former Apple executive, known as the father of the iPod, Tony Fadell suggested that Scott Forstall "got what he deserved" when he was ousted from Apple.
Death of Margaret Thatcher
News of the death of Margaret Thatcher today has stirred up some hot debate in the office as to how Thatcher's management style might be compared to Steve Jobs. Like Jobs, some might suggest that Thatcher made difficult decisions that made her unpopular. In politics and in business, is the ability to make decisions that upset people a necessity, or should managers strive to keep everyone happy?