The journey was the reward

I was in the midst of late edits on The Intention Economy this afternoon, wondering if I should refer to Steve Jobs in the past tense. I didn’t want to, but I knew he’d be gone by the time the book comes out next April, if he wasn’t gone already. So I decided to make the changes, and stopped cold before the first one. I just couldn’t go there.

Then the bad news came a few minutes ago, through an AP notification on my iPhone. Tonight we all have to go there.

Thirteen years, one month and one day ago, I wrote an email to Dave Winer, in response to a DaveNet post on Steve’s decision to kill off Apple’s clones. (Dave had also posted notes from an interview with Steve himself.) Dave published the email. Here’s the part that matters:

So Steve Jobs just shot the cloners in the head, indirectly doing the same to the growing percentage of Mac users who prefered cloned Mac systems to Apple’s own. So his message to everybody was no different than it was at Day One: all I want from the rest of you is your money and your appreciation for my Art.

It was a nasty move, but bless his ass: Steve’s art has always been first class, and priced accordingly. There was nothing ordinary about it. The Mac “ecosystem” Steve talks about is one that rises from that Art, not from market demand or other more obvious forces. And that art has no more to do with developers, customers and users than Van Gogh’s has to do with Sotheby’s, Christie’s and art collectors.

See, Steve is an elitist and an innovator, and damn good at both. His greatest achievements are novel works of beauty and style. The Apple I and II were Works of Woz; but Lisa, Macintosh, NeXT and Pixar were all Works of Jobs. Regardless of their market impact (which in the cases of Lisa and NeXT were disappointing), all four were remarkable artistic achievements. They were also inventions intended to mother necessity — and reasonably so. That’s how all radical innovations work. (Less forward marketers, including Bill Gates, wait for necessity to mother invention, and the best of those invent and implement beautifully, even though that beauty is rarely appreciated.)

To Steve, clones are the drag of the ordinary on the innovative. All that crap about cloners not sharing the cost of R&D is just rationalization. Steve puts enormous value on the engines of innovation. Killing off the cloners just eliminates a drag on his own R&D, as well as a way to reposition Apple as something closer to what he would have made the company if he had been in charge through the intervening years.

The simple fact is that Apple always was Steve’s company, even when he wasn’t there. The force that allowed Apple to survive more than a decade of bad leadership, cluelessness and constant mistakes was the legacy of Steve’s original Art. That legacy was not just an OS that was 10 years ahead of the rest of the world, but a Cause that induced a righteousness of purpose centered around a will to innovate — to perpetuate the original artistic achievements. And in Steve’s absence Apple did some righeous innovation too. Eventually, though, the flywheels lost mass and the engine wore out.

In the end, by when too many of the innovative spirts first animated by Steve had moved on to WebTV and Microsoft, all that remained was that righteousness, and Apple looked and worked like what it was: a church wracked by petty politics and a pointless yet deeply felt spirituality.

Now Steve is back, and gradually renovating his old company. He’ll do it his way, and it will once again express his Art.

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.
  7. The influence of fellow business artisans such as Larry Ellison (and even Larry’s nemesis, Bill Gates) will be significant, though secondary at best to Steve’s own muse.

Turns out Steve’s muse was the best in the history of business. No one-hit wonders. We’re talking about world-changing stuff. Again and again and again.

Watch this clip from Robert X. Cringeley’s “Triumph of the Nerds” public TV special, filmed back when Steve was still running NeXT. This one too. Then look at what Steve did after coming back. Not just the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Pixar and the laptops we see with glowing apples all over the place. Look at the Apple Stores. I’ve been told that Apple Stores are top-grossing retail shops in every mall they occupy. Even if that’s not true, it’s believable.

I’ve also been told that Apple Stores were Steve’s idea. I don’t know if that’s true either, but it makes sense, because they succeeded where nearly every other attempt at the same thing failed. To get there, Steve and Apple had to look past the smoking corpses of Gateway, Circuit City, Computerland, Radio Shack and all the other computer stores that had failed, and do something very different and much better. And they did.

I was wrong about one thing in my list above. I don’t think Steve regarded customers and users with contempt, except in the sense that he believed he knew better than they did. As an elitist, he also knew that calling the smartest and most employable Apple users “geniuses” was great bait for employment serving customers at Apple Stores.

There is no shortage of quotes by and about Steve Jobs tonight. But the best quote is the one he uttered so long ago I can’t find a source for it (maybe one of ya’ll can): The journey is the reward.

His first hit, the Apple II, was “The computer for the rest of us.” So now is his legacy.

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24 Responses to The journey was the reward

  1. Alex Hillman says:

    It’s awe-inspiring to read one of your mentors write about another one of your mentors.

    Thank you for that.

  2. Mary Lu Wehmeier says:

    Well said Doc.


    Mary Lu

  3. John Hawker says:

    His work opened careers opportunities for me and many others in publishing, arts, photography, that just didn’t and wouldn’t exist.

    Yet I don’t think Apple Mac is or was elitist. In Australia they had a great campaign using shopping dockets receipts to buy mac’s for schools.

    They where often cheaper than many PC’s, they “seemed’ more expensive, and I think the press or PR campaigns liked to paint them that way.

    So thanks for the career path you gave so many young artists who are not so young anymore.

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  6. Well said. You’ve been insightful about Jobs all along, Doc.

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  8. Doc,

    Did you ever get to meet Jobs?


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  10. Steve Jobs is yet another example of the benefits a free market society bestowes upon its citizens.

    He was allowed to succeed or fail without government intervention (for the most part) and charted his own course based on his understanding of what consumers wanted, sometimes even before the consumers realized it.

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  12. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, everybody.

    FWIW, I did meet Steve once, in 2002, when Apple introduced the XServe. This was also when when Darwin/BSD moved Apple into an overlap with the Unix/Linux sphere, so I had reason as an LJ editor to be there. (See LJ stories here and here.) It was a small gathering at Apple, in kind of a little theatre. I think I may also have been there at the partial behest of Tony Fadell, whom I knew from long before Steve brought him in to lead the iPod engineering effort. (Tony went on to become a close associate of Steve’s as VP Engineering there.)

    After Steve’s brief presentation I went up to say hi. He was friendly and we engaged in minimal small-talk. (Me: “Really glad to see you doing stuff with open source.” Steve: “It’s going well. Thanks for coming out.”)

    The people I know who knew him all had high praise for him as a colleague and a human being, and not just as a visionary. Tony talked about how Steve made a point of answering emails. (“Write to him. Really. You’ll hear back.”) Andy Hertzfeld told me that my email above “nailed” Steve perfectly, but also that Steve really was a good boss to work for, demanding nature and all.

    Two more stories.

    One is from a guy I met on a small group retreat who installs high-end audio systems for homes and parties. He’d serviced many dozens of wealthy VCs and CEOs in Silicon Valley. When I asked him who was the biggest asshole he’d ever worked for, he said “Larry Ellison.” And went on to tell a funny/harrowing story about Larry. When I asked him who was the nicest guy or gal he’d ever worked for, he said “Steve Jobs.” Not only was Steve helpful and cooperative on site, but he sent over flowers afterwards with a hand-written note of appreciation.

    The other is my own encounter with what could have been a scoop: the then-unknown identity of Steve’s natural father. A guy approached me at a journalism gathering in New York, with what he said were intimate details about the matter, giving me a few nuggets as bait (e.g. that the dad was a Syrian businessman who was a graduate student in school with Steve’s natural mom when he got her pregnant.) I asked the guy if he had approached Steve with the story first. “I did,” the guy said. “In an email.” “Did Steve respond?” I asked. “Yes. He told me to fuck off.” “Then I’m not interested either,” I replied.

  13. That last tale speaks volumes about you and Steve J.


  14. Betsy Wahlquist says:

    Doc, You Rock! You made me a Mac/Apple believer in about 1988 or so and I’ve never owned another kind of computer since. Jobs vision really paved the way for making technology easy for all of us. And fun too!

  15. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, Betsy. Good to hear from you.

    If we’d worked together in 2003 or so, I might have tried to make you a Linux believer, but that’s cool. Whatever works. (I use both.)

    How’s stuff? (Write me at

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  17. lurkerfan says:

    Very good to hear Jobs was a good human being — takes one to know one, and your genuine human outlook is what keeps me coming back to your blog often, even though most of your geek stuff is beyond my ken.

    Thanks. No need to reply to this…

  18. Patrick says:

    Great to see a thread that addresses Jobs as a human. Way too much deification out there. As a user, I hated being constantly left behind if I hadn’t bought the latest generation, and as a vendor Apple has never been a ‘partner’. But the hardest aspect of the Apple culture were those in the ‘Church of’. Jobs was, in my own experience, focused on value creation as he saw it. When the FCP team came into Hollywood, they were only looking for poster children- not what we needed to actually make the word “Pro” meaningful. When I emailed Jobs about it, he did in fact answer, and the dialog was brisk and moved right to “What features are missing?” Unfortunately ‘partner committed to my client’s delivery’ wasn’t something for the FCP or Apple bullet list.
    We lost Jobs young, and he went a hard way- pancreatic cancer for seven years is a by every account tough and nasty. The more we humanize him, the better, since it makes his unique expression something a bit more accessible than treating him as an icon.

  19. Doc Searls says:

    Thanks, Patrick.

    I once said of an idol (the best editor I’ve ever worked for, but will leave nameless), “He walked on clay feet when it was the only way to get around.”

    The best boss I ever had was also very Jobs-like in the perfection he demanded of his employees, and his business partners. Like Jobs, he had blind spots too, and was blunt as a fist.

    One genius I know, who has also had a profound influence on the world (and I will likewise leave nameless) had some of the worst hygenic practices I have ever encountered in a person not homeless.

    I knew one Apple insider, back in the company’s earliest days, who said there were times Jobs was so babyish that he actually rolled around and kicked on the floor — at a board meeting.

    I also know that one reason Apple opened its retail stores was that it faced the fact that it was awful at dealing with its own channel — and at customer service as well. Better just to go direct to customers. Turns out Jobs’ perfectionism in feature minimization and product beautification was ideally suited to upscale retailing. That this also gave good employment to thousands of Apple obsessives was quite a bonus. But it screwed the dealers who had carried Apple for two decades and more.

    Like all of us, Steve Jobs had limited abilities and real flaws. But what he did well changed the world, and for that we should be grateful.

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  21. Steve says:

    No doubt he was one of if not THE Brightest Visionary of my lifetime, and a huge inspiration to all. Apple was tough as a vendor relationship, but made all of us better, tougher business people, thus indirectly a win/win for both. Future generations will certainly benefit from his contributions.

  22. Doc Searls says:

    Eric Raymond posted this about Steve Jobs:

    Deep among the hundreds of comments (still going) are these:

    • Doc Searls Says:
    October 11th, 2011 at 10:01 pm
    Is Jobs still dead? It’s been more than three days, and I’ve been wondering.

    • Tim F. Says:
    October 12th, 2011 at 12:46 am
    It can take up to 50 days to reincarnate.

  23. An interesting idea thought would be how his brilliance and unique perspective influenced his estate plan. As an estate planner, I wonder what he determined to be his best estate plan. Did he give to charity, either outright or in trust? Did he set up any particular private foundation to foster his charitable goals? Or did he set up a unified credit trust and marital deduction trust that would have eliminated any estate tax at his death, to be deferred until his wife died. Did he set up private revocable trust to avoid the publicity of probate knowing that he was a private man? We may never know but these are fascinating questions.

  24. Rest in peace Steve Jobs.
    We used to have Bob Hope , Johnny Cash and Steve Jobs.
    Now we have no hope , no cash and no jobs.

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