When Founders Die


When founders die bad things happen. They almost always become cast in stone and martyrs, no matter how much they say they don’t want to be.

As soon as products such as the iPad Pro’s keyboard and the pen were announced yesterday you could feel the snark boom through Twitter.


If you are Steve Sinofsky, you get the last laugh:

Deservedly so. However, although it grates at me how Apple puts across the tone of “we just did something AMAZING” and “we reinvested everything again…. you’re wellllcome”, I also find it irksome how people jump on dead founders.

We can all claim that Steve wouldn’t have shipped this by quoting him in the past. Those of us who are alive are able to change our opinions as the times change. If someone quotes us we can talk about why we said that then (often giving the context that was taken out) and why we may feel differently now.

Once a founder is gone the organization continues and the worst thing it can do is stagnate in time. A company is working a strategy, and if you don’t revisit the strategy when the landscape and pieces have changed then you will be innovated out of a business at some point of time.


I got to see this at Walmart Labs. On starting the company you get his biography. It is important to read it as he is such a pivotal figure, and there is much to learn from him.

What stood out to me was how dynamic he was. Although he felt strongly about the every day low prices value, he changed the tactics and strategy around delivering that many times as the world changed around him.

He had a full life, and the number of quotes from him is immense. Like a biblical scholar you can find quotes you can use to help win an argument within the company, but I would always notice the people that understood him as the malleable strong entrepreneur.

This lesson from Walmart changed how I feel about founders. I have the luxury of revisiting my believes and coming to new conclusions over time. After all, I would hate to be someone that never revisited assumptions when new data arose.

Steve Jobs was a strong personality. He may still have not thought that the Apple Pen was needed, but I am not going to use his past words define that.

The game has changed. He isn’t talking about a pencil in the era where he was announcing a new multi-touch device that fits in your pocket. The iPad Pro looks like it could finally be great for drawing and writing on. The details truly matter here. I have bought too many stylus’ over time and either the latency was an issue, or the bulkiness of the iPad so they don’t get too much use. Maybe that has changed now. Maybe it hasn’t changed yet.

I did find myself dreaming of an artist who was able to hand draw fractal art, zooming in further and further tweaking his creation. I can’t zoom in and out on paper. I can’t edit in the same way. I can’t share in the same way.

We will never know what our founders will think. This is very much true for other founders, such as those who founded this country. They were just people, and people change along with the times. Let us understand why they thought what they did, but not hold on to it with a death grip.

We have a future to build, and need learned but open minds to get there.

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