Lifestyle Inc. Redux

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.


3 Responses to “Lifestyle Inc. Redux”

  1. Alex Clark Says:

    Amen brother!

    I, too, was struck by that recent revelation from Sculley, but even more so, I was moved by two things: 1.) Jobs’ “getting lucky” and finding a liver (close one!) and 2.) in hearing about the commencement speech he gave at Standford (

    He says things like:

    “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it, and like any great relationship it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle. ”

    Love him or hate him, he did it “his way” (not necessarily the “right way”) and that is something I can relate to, identify with, and continue to be inspired by.

    Similarly, I continue to watch the “old school Zope guys” like you, Tres and Chris and I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction in knowing that, as a result of being inspired by you guys and many other folks in the Python, Zope, Plone, Django communities et. al. I have learned how to “do what I like” and get paid for it.

    Six months or so after Chris wrote “Lifestyle, Inc,” I quit my day job to do Plone full time, and I haven’t looked back (

    So thank you all, very much, again!


  2. Mark Ramm Says:

    I’m not always sure there’s even a single “right thing for me.”

    I feel very comfortable with doing a lot of things. I enjoy doing UI design sometimes, sometimes Ilove writing code, and sometimes I love helping fix broken processes. In my experience, getting to one strategy that works among the many possibilities inside the constrains of “the right thing for me” is still hard.

    The hard thing in my experience has been finding something that fits who I am *and* works.

    I absolutely agree that without the passion and determination that comes from doing what fits, even if it works, it won’t work for you. But without some “market” you darwin’s going go win, which is no fun either.

  3. Max Spiller Says:

    Paul, I know you like these kinds of talks.
    The real (IMO) story of Apple success can be found in a talk by Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital made at Stanford Business school 3 months ago. This guy is who made it possible for Apple to grow fast and become what it is today. Also, you will learn why Apple is so secretive. Steve Jobs learned this from Valentine. Great talk, don’t miss it.
    Don Valentine, Sequoia Capital: “Target Big Markets”

    Here’s the presentation slides

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