"They spent the rest of the time talking about where Apple should focus in the future. Jobs’s ambition was to build a company that would endure, and he asked Markkula what the formula for that would be. MARKKULA REPLIED THAT LASTING COMPANIES KNOW HOW TO REINVENT THEMSELVES. Hewlett-Packard had done that repeatedly; it started as an instrument company, then became a calculator company, then a computer company. ‘Apple has been sidelined by Microsoft in the PC business,’ Markkula said. ‘You’ve got to reinvent the company to do some other thing, like other consumer products or devices. You’ve got to be like a butterfly and have a metamorphosis.’ Jobs didn’t say much, but he agreed."
I wish I could tell you to read the Steve Jobs book. But by trying to include everything, Walter Isaacson missed the target. We don’t feel like we know Steve Jobs, we feel like we’ve heard from everyone who was slighted or superseded by him.
People don’t like it when you climb higher on the ladder than they do. Check the resumes of the original Mac team. They were brilliant engineers, but there have been no second acts, certainly none as significant as the original Mac. Jobs drove his charges to superiority. He believed in having A players only and getting the job done. But without their coach, the players were lost.
Anybody can find one hit act, but can you find two? That’s what fascinates us about Steve Jobs, that he kept on connecting, kept on hitting, kept on getting better as the game wore on. That’s the opposite of the arc in the creative field. Where people start off strong and then fade out. The execs remain, but the talent comes and goes. And the execs believe they know everything.
Failure hurts. Most acts don’t succeed and then give up. Or keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. One can argue, as Isaacson does, that the failure of NeXT made Steve Jobs great. It’s when you die trying that you learn so much. Anybody can get divorced, but can you stay together? Steve Jobs didn’t project Pixar would make feature films when he bought the company, he thought it was a hardware/software play. You’ve got to change on the fly, you’ve got to be open to opportunities. And it’s not luck… Steve kept paring Pixar down, but he kept finding money for John Lasseter to do his shorts. Those shorts evolved into "Toy Story".
I wish Steve Jobs were alive to rebut Isaacson’s portrait of him. He’d say he got it all wrong, that it was shit, that Isaacson is a bozo. The same way he was enamored of Sculley and then realized he’d made a mistake. Isaacson is not a builder, he’s an observer, taking down notes, trying to paint a balanced picture. Geniuses don’t believe in balance. It’s fascinating to see them at work. It’s all work, all the time. They can make judgments on the fly or ponder small decisions for weeks. Because they can see that the little things count.
Somehow the little things were left out of Isaacson’s book. You get no idea what it was like to live in Steve Jobs’s body, what he was truly thinking. He emerges in two dimensions, more enigma than fully-realized, and that’s a shame, but the products remain.
And it was all about the products. Sculley was a marketing guy, that’s why Apple faltered. If you’ve got nothing to sell, nothing new and different and better than the competition, you’re going to struggle, things are going to go downhill.
Record production is all about the new thing. Unfortunately, today the new thing too often looks like the old thing. Jobs couldn’t compete with Gates when it came to PCs, he had to define an entirely new category to triumph, which he did three times, with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Doug Morris will find hits for Sony, but he will not lead the company out of the wilderness. Because recorded music sales are not the future, nor is radio, and Doug Morris is completely blank when it comes to new paradigms.
At least give Warner credit, they’re trying. It’s the old company in name only. They may be taking too much in 360 deals, but sharing in all avenues of income is the future.
But you’ve got to be fair.
Jobs was fair. When he came back to Apple, the employees were demoralized, their stock options were underwater, they were not close to being worth anything. So Jobs repriced them. At first the board said no, then said it needed months to debate the issue, Jobs insisted the change be made instantly or he would walk. Jobs got his way.
You’ve got to stand up for yourself. Too many people at labels are looking to save their jobs. If you’re not willing to put your job on the line, you’re worthless.
The acts are employees. I’m an attorney, I know the difference, but that’s true, especially in a 360 deal. But the labels treat the acts like shit. This will be their downfall.
The music business is being reinvented. Ironically, not by those in it, but outsiders. The insiders are raping and pillaging, piling up money before the edifice collapses. They’re doomed. They refuse to reinvent themselves.
And the acts, in many cases, are just as bad. They want a deal, they want someone else to pay, they want to bitch. But the only solution is to stop bitching and use the new tools to profit, to realize it’s a brand new game. The Internet is not going away, we are not going back to three networks and no cable. There will only be more entertainment options. You can reach everybody, but it’s almost impossible to get them to pay attention. How do you get them to pay attention?
By not doing it the same way everybody else does. By reinventing yourself.
P.S. Speaking of reinvention, please read this e-mail from Mike Dreese of Newbury Comics that arrived in my inbox this afternoon:
Innovate or die, that’s what they say. Instead of complaining that people are stealing music and you just can’t sell a CD, Newbury Comics has been making changes and altering its product mix and surviving. If you’ve never heard Mike Dreese speak, you’re in for a treat. He goes to Japan and buys containers full of tchotchkes to sell. He’s just not doing it the same old way, listening to record salesmen, stocking returnable discs and seeing what happens. The future of Newbury Comics might not even be music. Retail is evolving. While other indie record stores have died, Newbury Comics has lived on. By not lamenting that it’s no longer the way it used to be, but realizing that the world changes and to survive, you’ve got to think different.