Electronics as a perfect occupation for the socially retarded.”
– Jeffrey Young, Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward
Journey is one of the most fascinating business books I have ever read. Understanding what makes it great is important to understand historiography, the study of history.
It is clear that Jeffrey Young, the author, dislikes Steve Jobs. From insults to insinuations, to predictions, to even how his childhood is described, Young’s disgust with Jobs is the theme of this work.
So what. The same author wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, iCon, which is perhaps most notable for kicking off the current round of Steve Jobs cliche. Arrogant, brash, an evangelist of design, etc. Even though I shared my impressions of iCon thirteen years ago, I can remember only nothing about it.
But iCon was written when Jobs appeared to be a success. Journey is written to kick him on the way down, a farewell letter to a disgraced CEO the world is done with.
This is what makes it amazing. Young thinks Jobs is a disgraced failure and that his book is the final word. He has no reason to give any credit to Jobs, and does not believe he has made anything lasting.
Thus I believe every compliment in the book that Young gives Jobs.
Here’s an example. Using Walter Isaacson’s famous biography Steve Jobs, a dozen years ago I wrote:
During his early time at Apple, Steve Jobs displayed a lack of empathy and inability to build non-obvious support networks. His rivalry with John Sculley was not just bitter, but it was self-sabotaged. While Sculley took steps to prove himself to the Board of Directors and support internal stakeholders, Jobs felt free to alienate both. Likewise, while Sculley made extravagant shows of giving Jobs second, third, and fourth chances, Jobs insisted that Sculley be dismissed immediately. Sculley successfully manipulated the environment such that the Board insisted twice that he dismiss Jobs: imagine being in a position all important stakeholders are insisting on your approval to fire your rival!
That’s a correct, high-level summary of this book.
And in the very next paragraph, I wrote:
Jobs was wiser after his return. He became a patron of the Marketing and Design departments, ensuring internal support for initiatives. He also chose a board that was generally supportive of him, removing Board Members like Eric Schmidt when they showed signs of independent thought. Just as Sculley had, decades earlier, maneuvers for the board to beg him to fire Steve, Jobs maneuvered for the board to beg him to return as CEO.
Fair enough. That’s the general impression one would get from reading iWoz, The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs, or other works. But it leaves a mystery: why if his solution was to embrace marketing and design, was his successor Tim Cook and not Jonny Ive?
Journey is the Reward provides the answer.
Several times in the book, Young gives Jobs credit for a focus and skill on supply chain optimization. While Walter Isaacson mentioned a teenage job on an assembly line, I’ve never heard this included in a Jobs hagiography. But it makes sense considering Apple’s world-besting supply chain under Jobs and Tim Cook.
He was also a superb and persistent negotiator for prices. The costs of components for Apple were consistently lower than any other hobbyist computer company. He was always on the phone, and his favorite phrase was, “you’ll have to sharpen your pencil.” He was one tough poker player with “brass balls,” as Wigginton described them.
Likewise, Young inadvertently gives Jobs credit for inventing part of modern tech marketing. He describes, to his chagrin, how Jobs’ marketing of Apple products would focus on Apple “creators” who were different than the people most directly responsible for the project. I’ve seen this take place multiple times in my career. I did not realize that Jobs began the practice. Thanks to Young, I now believe he did.
Jobs saw management and technical skill as different “tracks” with different compensation systems:
Animostisics were hard to conceal when freshly hired managers found that their employees were worth much more than they were. It was an unreal situation, and the man-child who had co-founded Apple and watched over its meteoric growth was showing his dark side.
Steve Jobs believed he would, as he did with the iPhone, change the nature of everyday life:
Insulated, isolated, and infused with the certitude that they were about to change the course of western civilization, the upwardly creeping forecasts were only one symptom of the ridiculously optimistic attitude that all of them shared.
And that with computer technology, he could increase volumes fast enough to become more profitable even as consumer costs declined:
Since this product and a prince timeline would have brought out newer, improved machines at lower cost than their predecessors, it would have made Apple the only manufacturing company in the world to reduce their income over time. The plan confirms that Jobs was working on his own, with minimal supervision, and the rest of the company was humoring him. He had no idea how to forecast and plan prices, and since the group organization chart shows him as the head of the marketing group – while he knew nothing whatsoever about marketing – he was clearly going by the seat of his pants. Steve wanted, truly wanted, to be able to sell more and more powerful computers for less and less money. The fact that no company in the world could realistically do that, and continue to innovate and support their products, was invisible to him.
A small detail: upon Steve’s termination
On Tuesday he delivered his resignation letter to a spate of newspapers and magazines before he drove to Mike Markkula’s nearby house and hand-delivered it. Then, in front of the press gathered at his house, he burned all the bridges. The love affair was over. He faced the future with a kind of tough and brutal honesty that was immensely compelling.
Markkula was critical in the decision to fire Jobs. Years later, he would be part of the decision to bring him back.
I read Steve Jobs: The Journey is the Reward, by Jeffrey S. Young, in the Kindle edition.