The New York Times published an interesting article this weekend about Google and Apple. The article describes a theory outlined by blogger John Gruber at MacWorld Expo two years ago. Gruber argued that innovative firms need an auteur, someone like a film director who calls the creative shots... Like Steve Jobs does at Apple. The article suggests that Apple's auteur approach (Jobs as ultimate design arbiter) excels relative to Google's collaborative design process (many people weighing in on key choices).
I have two problems with this argument. First, I think it downplays the level of true collaboration at Apple, and discounts the true contribution of people such as Jonathan Ive. More importantly, though, I think we have to consider whether we should be generalizing based on observations of Apple. Perhaps it is a very unique firm that cannot be easily emulated. Moreover, perhaps it would be problematic to bet on the "lone genius" approach in a wide variety of other firms based on this auteur argument.
Recently, Bob Lutz made a similar argument regarding car design. He argued essentially that a dictator approach beats design by committee. However, that assumes a really capable dictator. What if the dictator is less than spectacular?