That I could order my Apple Watch Sport from my iPhone while walking down the Corso Italia in Milan, and pay for it on the phone with just the touch of my thumb, is as much of a technological marvel as the Watch itself.  With the exception of my thumbprint, not a single element in this process existed 40 years ago—not even Apple, Inc.  (Apple was founded in 1976—the same year, incidentally, as The Rockford Institute.)  LTE cellular communications, electronic banking, biometric security, not to mention the hardware and software of the iPhone itself, which even in its first iteration was more powerful than the computers on both the Apollo moon lander and the space shuttle—we take all of these things for granted today, rarely if ever thinking about how dramatically they have changed the way we work and do business and communicate with friends and family in the space of a few decades (and, in some cases, the space of a few years).

Longtime readers will remember that I once tried, in two short pages, to give some sense of how Steve Jobs had revolutionized the publishing industry—and specifically how Chronicles is produced—over the course of a quarter-century, without even intending to do so.  (See “Success(ion),” Virtual Realities, October 2011.)  Desktop publishing, PDFs, computer-to-plate printing, even email and the World Wide Web itself—all have their roots in (or at least owe their widespread adoption to) the work that Jobs did first at Apple, then at NeXT, and finally back at Apple once more.  Without those developments, and the money they allowed us to save, Chronicles would have gone out of business long ago.

There is, of course, a certain irony in this for us here at Chronicles, because those cost savings came primarily through the reduction of staff—both our staff and that of our vendors—and we know that there are things that are more important in the long run than the bottom line.  But that doesn’t change the fact that you hold this issue of Chronicles in your hands because the development of technology made it possible for us to keep doing what we do well—writing and editing the best monthly magazine in America.

My earlier column, though, wasn’t just about technology, but was occasioned by the retirement of Steve Jobs as Apple’s CEO, a little over a month before he died.  At the time, I argued (contrary to many tech pundits and business analysts who were paid to get this right) that Apple would continue to thrive without Steve Jobs, because his attention to detail extended beyond hardware and software to the very life of the company itself.  He had recruited the right people, who years before his retirement had taken over the day-to-day operations of Apple, and instilled in them the best of his qualities—without insisting that they also adopt the worst.  As a longtime user of Apple products (and a long-term investor in Apple stock), I’m happy to note that the intervening years have proved me right, and the tech pundits and the business analysts wrong: “Apple succeeded because of Steve Jobs, but the company’s success no longer depends primarily on him.”

Nothing makes that more clear than the Apple Watch, the first truly post-Jobs product.  Whether you love it, hate it, or feel supremely indifferent to it, once you have used one, you will have no doubt that the Watch signals another evolution in technology that will have much farther-reaching implications than fulfilling the dreams of several generations of boys for a Dick Tracy two-way wrist radio.  In the two weeks since mine arrived, the Watch has already changed the way I use my iPhone as much as my iPhone changed the way I used my laptop, which in turn had changed the way that I use my desktop Mac.  And the Watch is just in its first generation.

But once again, my thoughts about the Watch extend beyond technology to what it tells us about Apple as a company.  Apple’s recent history provides lessons that a company of any size, in any field, would do well to consider.

Both leading up to, and in the wake of, the introduction of the Apple Watch, the tech pundits and Wall Street analysts regarded this product as a referendum on the leadership of Steve Jobs’s successor, Tim Cook.  “Cook’s Apple” hadn’t produced a truly new product since the death of Jobs, so it’s understandable that people were reading the tea leaves, trying to determine whether Apple’s glory days were all in the past.  Even though Apple remains the largest company in the world, and the most profitable, and has a mind-boggling sum of money in the bank, it was reasonable at least to entertain the idea that Apple might suffer the fate of Microsoft post-Bill Gates: Microsoft still exists, but it has become increasingly less relevant.  The Watch has put those fears to rest.

On Memorial Day, however, the narrative among tech pundits and Wall Street analysts suddenly shifted.  Apple chose that day—a slow news day, and a day on which the stock markets are closed—to announce that Jonathan Ive, Apple’s chief designer since the mid-90’s (even before the return of Steve Jobs), had been promoted from senior vice president of industrial design to chief design officer.

The reaction to the announcement proved the wisdom in its timing.  Suddenly, the pundits and analysts were no longer referring to the Apple Watch as Tim Cook’s first post-Jobs product; instead, they began to see it as, potentially, Jony Ive’s last product for Apple.  And when the markets opened on the morning after the announcement of Ive’s promotion, Apple’s stock took a significant hit (though it gained back almost all of the loss just one day later, and ended the week only slightly down).

There may be some truth to the new narrative.  In recent years, there have been rumors (though Ive has denied them) that he desires to spend more time with his family and in his native England, and the Watch is clearly the crowning achievement (no pun intended) of his two decades of design work at Apple—which is saying something, considering that the iMac, the iPod, the MacBook Air, the iPhone, and the iPad have all become modern icons of industrial design.  As any over-the-hill athlete or artist eventually realizes (usually too late), there are worse ways to go out than at the top of your game.

For the most part, however, the new narrative reflects something that I discussed just last month (“Dig Deeper,” The Rockford Files): People understand catastrophes.  In fact, I may have understated my case: People crave catastrophes, to the point where they will often desire to manufacture one where none actually exists.

Should Jony Ive’s promotion be the first of many steps that takes him away permanently from his Cupertino design studio, it will obviously change the future of Apple.  But it’s by no means a given that such a change will be for the worse—and I say that as someone who has long stood in awe of Ive’s genius for industrial design.  Ive is only a little over a year older than I am, so he is by no means rapidly approaching the biblical three score and ten; but at some point, time will inevitably catch up with him, and for Apple to survive as a company, it has to be prepared to move on without him, just as it did without Steve Jobs.

That is the real story behind the Memorial Day announcement.  Ive wasn’t the only person who received a promotion that day.  Richard Howarth, long Ive’s right-hand man, was given Ive’s old title of vice president of industrial design; and Alan Dye, whom Ive personally recruited from Apple’s marketing department to lead the overhaul of the iOS interface three years ago, was named vice president of UI design.

Looking back over the last year or more, I can see that Apple has been preparing for Ive’s promotion for a long time.  In profiles of Jony Ive, Howarth and Dye have been prominently featured.  Ive has been lavishing praise on both men for months on end, to the point of downplaying his own role in both the design of the original iPhone and the UI overhaul in iOS 7, pointing out that the former was the work of Howarth and that the latter (as well as the design of the UI of the Apple Watch) was all Dye.

There’s no reason to believe that Ive’s praise of either man is disingenuous.  No one would accuse Ive of an excess of humility.  Rather, he seems to take pride in both his own design skills and his ability to recruit people who share his vision and his talent—people who may one day not only replace him but build upon the foundation he has laid to take Apple’s products to even greater heights.

Steve Jobs, to put it mildly, had an ego as well, but he had followed the same path by promoting both Ive and Cook, giving them free rein to exercise their authority, and letting them shine, knowing that their success did not detract from him but reflected well on his own abilities.  Even so, Apple, it seems, has recognized that it didn’t handle the transition with Jobs as well as it should have, at least in terms of publicly promoting his successors and creating a narrative of continuity rather than catastrophe before Jobs’s retirement.

As Jeff Gamet, the managing editor of The Mac Observer, pointed out on the Mac OS Ken podcast the day after Ive’s promotion,

There’s a lot of people that were doing things that Steve wasn’t, because he couldn’t do every single thing in the company.  And I think giving those people a little bit more visibility, potentially a little bit more autonomy, is just a good thing overall, because now they can work on pursuing their vision, and continuing on with the Steve Jobs vision, and Apple is showing that they’re much more than a rock-star CEO.

Apple did the right thing with Jobs, but the company didn’t let the rest of us know, and so the narrative of catastrophe, promoted by tech pundits and Wall Street analysts, overwhelmed the reality of continuity and led to a few rough years for Apple, publicity-wise.  With Ive, Apple is making sure it doesn’t repeat that mistake.

There are lessons here for any company that wants to grow and to thrive.  Recruit the right people to replace the current generation; give them authority in line with their talents (and allow them to exercise that authority); and, when the time comes, don’t let your ego stand in the way of allowing the next generation to push your company forward, building upon your good work to create their own.  The more you stress the reality of continuity, the less likely it is that others can saddle your company with a narrative of catastrophe.

The next few years are going to be very exciting; I, for one, can’t wait to see where they take us.  Watch this space.