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:
- It will be original.
- It will be innovative.
- It will be exclusive.
- It will be expensive.
- It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
- 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.
- 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.