I was just reading the John Sculley interview about Steve Jobs. Like others, I was deeply impressed at the humility shown by Sculley. Not just faux humility, but actual humility, pulling no punches about how things went down and admitting that his way wasn’t the right way.
That part was particularly interesting to me. I’ve long had difficulty with “there’s a right and a wrong”. Like most Americans, I want to believe in silver bullets, miracle cures, and simple answers to hard problems. There is virtue in that, and many cases, doing something questionably right but with conviction is indeed a better course than sitting on the sidelines. As a (mediocre) engineer and a former Navy officer, you’re trained to think problems have solutions, or more correctly, solution (singular). One true path, follow it to victory.
In reading Sculley’s comments on Jobs, I got wrapped around this axle again. It is tempting to think “Jobs did things the right way”, but clearly that’s wrong. The conventional wisdom at the time defined the Right Way, and (later) VCs existed to sort out the winners and losers according to the scorecard. But the right way was, in this case, wrong.
In fact, there wasn’t “a” way at all. There might have been many ways, right and wrong, but none of that matters. Instead, whatever Jobs did was his way, and since it succeeded, was the right way, even though that way was completely “wrong” according to the thought leaders. There wasn’t a way that he did. Instead, he just did things, and since it worked, it was a way and it was a right way.
That’s just indigestible for my constitution. I’m so wired to find paths, pick the right one, and follow it to the successful destination, that it’s hard to countenance that the right path was whichever one worked.
But looking back on it, I realize I learned this a while back. 6 years and 8 months ago, as of today, Chris McDonough wrote Lifestyle Inc. It was an odd time for me in 2004, possibly for Chris as well. I had just gotten off a track where there was a scorecard, a right way, and success. And conversely, a wrong way which, if it didn’t measure against that right scorecard, was a failure.
Chris’s blog post, as the comments show, struck a lot of people. I know many, many folks who read it and really, deeply, poignantly got it. At the time, it gave me a nice catchy phrase to express and connote what I was going to do.
But Lifestyle Inc. and the companion Agendaless Consulting (and the backstory that goes with it) started teaching me some other lessons related to the Jobs article. As I’ve gotten to work with Chris and Tres over the years, I’ve repeatedly seen my fervent desire to be told the right answer to follow, prove to be misguided. I also learned from Jim Fulton on this point, who was always much better at patience and reality. Much of the time, there isn’t a right way. If you do something, and it works, it was the right way.
Which kind of ties a bow around the Jobs article and Lifestyle Inc. Do the right thing for you, and do it well, and let Darwin decide if it was the right way or not.