That He Not Busy Being Born Is Busy Dying

What strikes me most regarding Apple’s abandonment of Macworld Expo is the thought that Steve Jobs seems deeply suspicious of, perhaps even outright antagonistic toward, traditions of any sort.1

A big part of what makes Apple so fascinating is that they’re so utterly unlike other companies of similar size and stature. It’s hard to imagine any other company abandoning something like Apple’s traditional role at Macworld Expo. But, of course, it’s even harder to imagine any other company being able to create such a tradition in the first place.

It seems so ugly, the way this has gone down — but there’s no way to break with tradition in a nice way.

Repetition blinds us to just how odd certain rituals of tradition are. Like how it seems perfectly normal that every December we chop down millions of small trees, decorate them with electric lights and glass balls, and display them prominently in our homes.

Likewise, it has somehow come to feel normal that on a Tuesday morning in early January each year, thousands of people from around the country come to San Francisco to stand in line for hours — hundreds of them waiting all night long in a queue stretching around the block — to sit in a large auditorium and watch the CEO of an electronics company announce new products. That is not normal; it is extraordinary.

Traditions are comforting. But comfort, I think, tends not to breed innovation. It can be hard to tell whether you’re staying the course because it’s the right direction, or because you’ve dug yourself into a deep rut.

Regarding Apple’s decision, John Siracusa writes:

There are many words that characterize Apple under the second reign of Steve Jobs: resurgent, exciting, innovative, successful. I’d add one more to that list: fearless.

Most large corporations are afraid of change. Successful product lines, business plans, and especially brands are milked for every penny. And when there’s nothing left, when the thing’s been beaten into the ground until not a single ounce of value remains, only then will corporations reluctantly move on.

I agree, but with a subtle difference. It’s not that Steve Jobs is fearless, but rather that he’s afraid of not changing. Where other CEOs can’t bring themselves to do something different, Jobs can’t bring himself to keep doing the same thing.

  1. Strategic traditions, not sartorial ones, obviously. ↩︎