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Apple Still Thinks Like a Start-Up

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The pundits criticize Apple (AAPL) for falling behind, theorizing that in the absence of their spiritual leader, Steve Jobs, innovation and that certain quality he brought, is now fading.

The market is becoming anxious with Apple, sans Jobs. It believes that the miracle rise of Apple was embodied solely in one man. There was complete confidence and ease that Apple could do no wrong when Jobs was alive; even on his death bed the confidence was strong. And the sentiment lingered almost exactly a full year after his death -- the year of mourning.

But that sentiment is fading, and the reality distortion field has weakened, if it's not completely gone. Was it the man his ideas that made Apple great? When a man dies, do his ideas go with him? Ideas do not have an expiration date coincident with the life of a person.

Steve spent 14 years at the helm after his return from exile, during which he took on the role of a messiah, a buddha, a man who walked the simple path. Was he a saint? Hell no. Was he a tyrant? Absolutely not. Was he brutal to work for? Often yes, but measured. Then how did Jobs imbue his philosophy upon the company? How did he get tens of thousands in this mammoth company to act as though they were all part of a small hungry start-up? How did he get people he never met to embrace his philosophy of simplicity? He certainly couldn't be there to mentor every employee. He couldn't even come within five levels of most of the minions.

The answer is simple, like the Jobs philosophy. He led by example. He worked within small focused groups and drilled his philosophy into them for 14 years. These disciples of the top team cascaded the Jobs message and his ways down the chain until they reached every person. And every person from the bottom up is empowered with the tools to improve upon Apple operations. This is the embodiment of a kaizen lean company. "Kaizen" is Japanese for "good change" or "change for the better." It is the underlying philosophy of lean business processes, such as those practiced and originally introduced to the world by Toyota's 14 principles, called the Toyota Production System (TPS).

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