How Sustainable is a Business after losing its Creative Force?

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How sustainable is a business, at the cutting edge in its field, after losing its founder and creative force?  Clearly, the loss of Steve Jobs has many of us wondering about its long-term impact on Apple.  His spectacular contribution has been profound, in a business that has impacted virtually all others.  But I’ve been considering a more general question about creativity and the importance of systems and processes to further the interests of any innovative business.

This came home when a client was trying to sell his business.  John was an artistic and savvy producer of niche business software.  He had brought his small company back from the brink of disaster to a highly functioning and profitable enterprise.

We were sitting in a business broker’s office.  Several buyers were interested in the products, potential and financials, but it became clear that John could not show how the company would thrive without him.  There were no systems in place to potentially replicate his success.  He wanted to move on to other endeavors and was unwilling to stay with the new firm, under different management.  Essentially, his company was him.  He had nothing to sell, except himself.  In the end, he kept his business.

Most of us realize that you cannot run a company in the absence of effective processes.  A systematic approach to marketing, financial controls and every other aspect of management is crucial.  But how do you produce innovation and creativity on demand?

That’s the dilemma recognized by potential buyers, when turning down the opportunity to buy John’s firm, if in fact he couldn’t come with the package.  And it’s the question many of us pose about Steve Jobs and Apple.

I still mourn the loss of John Lennon, cut down in his prime, for the music that he would have produced had he lived.  In the same way, after Steve Jobs’ untimely death, we will forever ask ourselves what unforseen value we have lost.  No business process can give us new Lennon songs.  By the same token, how can anything be expected to reproduce Jobs’ genius?



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