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“The Ballmer Effect”

When the heart dies and the brain takes over, will the creativity and innovation that made the body strong remain, or will the brain become content just being alive?

This is the question that came to mind after reading a tweet from Michael Margolis, a former Apple software engineer, claiming that the Apple TV 2.0 UI — developed five years ago —  was tossed when Steve Jobs didn’t like them.

My issue is not with Apple using a UI that was previously tossed per say, but the confidence I have in Apple being able to create a non-Steve Jobs-initiated product that is truly innovative, that confidence is starting to wane. Sure, you could say that the Apple TV needed a UI overhaul, and this change helps in the short-term, but the bigger question is did Apple do this because they perceived it was a better design than the original, or because they knew any change would raise sales numbers and profits? These actions reflect upon the leader of the company, Tim Cook.

One of the many reasons Steve Jobs admired Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, was the very similar thought process they both shared when it came to running a company. They both knew that making money was the means to build better products, not the other way around. Market capital and revenues weren’t as important to them as the average CEO, which is one of the reasons why they created such iconic companies and products. A decision based on profits may not be the best decision for your product. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have had complete control over those decisions. But when a successor comes — someone who is not a creative genius, but a business genius, how will the company change?

A developer I spoke to described the change as “the Ballmer effect,”  When a creative CEO is replaced with a business-minded leader, priorities change from making the best product, to making the biggest profit.  Innovation should be the biggest priority for a tech company, which will in-turn bring in the biggest profits, with the best example being Apple, under Steve Jobs.

Surprisingly, the person closest to Apple’s moves over the last twelve years apparently has not learned enough from his predecessor. Tim Cook is undoubtedly one of the best business minds around today, but it seems like he would be better suited running IBM than the most innovative company of the last 50 years.

In a surprising twist, Ballmer has learned from Apple, appointing Steven Sinofsky, a truly gifted innovator, as the head of Windows Division, which has paid off greatly for Microsoft.

The next two to three years of major releases from Apple are already in the books, most likely placed there by Jobs himself. But when Jobs’ final creations are unveiled, will Apple be able to continue their innovative streak? Will they still be the pinnacle to which companies will still try to reach nearly two years after they release a product (See: Retina Display)?

As Ballmer learned from his mistakes, so can Cook. But those thought to be their successors — Scott Forstall, head of iOS, who many compare to Jobs, and Steven Sinofsky are there, waiting in the wings, ready to make innovation the top priority once again.