Photo: Asa Mathat, All Things Digital
Apple is the best company in the world.It’s producing the best products on earth, and delivering record-breaking earnings results.
So what can other companies learn from Apple. Adam Lashinsky of Fortune has written a book largely dedicated to the topic, “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired — And Secretive — Company Really Works.“
We read through the book and picked out our favourite, most surprising bits. Lashinsky warns that much of what works for Apple won’t work for big companies. He thinks it makes more sense for startups to adhere to a lot of these rules.
We disagree. Big companies, from Google to Microsoft, could read this over and find lots of interesting ideas.
It’s not an accident that Apple is the best company in the world. It has a pretty organised system in place to get it to where it is today.
It sounds obvious, right? Well, it's not. Especially when your company is in a state of change.
When Apple started working on the iPhone, it put all of its smartest people on the project. It allowed the people running the iPhone division to poach talented engineers from the Mac group. The Mac OS was delayed because it was suddenly short handed.
At Apple, secrecy isn't simply about not telling the media when you're working on something. It's about not telling your fellow coworkers what you're working on.
Secrecy has a few benefits: It prevents the newest product in the pipeline from stealing the thunder of what's currently on the market. It also helps employees to stay head-down and focused on their own work instead of worrying about what other people are doing.
Lashinsky reports that Apple has a room dedicated to working on designing and building new boxes for Apple's products. It wants people to be thrilled with an iPhone from the minute it's in a consumer's hands. It's this attention to detail that separates Apple from its rivals. All startups should get the small things right.
Apple built the first Apple computer because, 'we we really wanted one,' said Steve Jobs in early 80s. The same was true of the iPhone and the iPad in the early 2000s. Apple execs hated using crappy smartphones and wanted to do better. Apple makes products it wants to use that it thinks it can do better than the rest.
In response that last point, just because you think you can do something better, doesn't always mean you should do it. Think about Google. It thinks it can do everything better than everyone else. It ends up doing some things very well, but most things are done in a so-so way.
One of Apple's great strengths is that you can basically lay out everything it does on one table. It's a table that's getting bigger and bigger, but it's still just one table.
Another key point from Lashinsky: Apple might not do focus groups, but it does pay very close attention to what you're doing with your gadgets. From there, Apple makes decisions about what to pursue next. For instance, yesterday Tim Cook said the people that use Apple TV really love it, and he added that Apple was trying to figure out how to make it go 'main market,' because people like using it.
Apple's CFO is the only person that 'owns' the P&L, and that's CFO Peter Oppenheimer, says Lashinsky. The other person who kept an eye on P&L was Steve Jobs. Presumably, it's Tim Cook now.
In a normal company, controlling the P&L of your division is a big deal. You're king of your own domain if you do that. At Apple, Jobs stripped it away from other managers and VPs so they could just focus on doing what they do best: build great products. They don't worry about expenses.
D.R.I. -- Directly Responsible Individual, is a key phrase at Apple. What it means is that for every product, or feature, there is someone that can be held responsible for its success or failure. Apple doesn't have committees, and in the book Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, 'At Apple you can find out exactly who is responsible.' There is no room for excuses. If you're leading a team, you better do your job.
Former Apple employee Mike Janes, quotes Steve Jobs: 'A players hire A players, and B players hire C players. We want only A players here.'
Apple doesn't let its employees stray from Apple. Tim Cook was the only executive who sat on the board of another company. (Nike.) When Andy Miller, who used to run the iAds group asked Jobs if he could be on the board of another company, Jobs said, ' What? You're barely cutting it here and you want to go spend your time helping someone else's company? I don't even let Forstall out of the office.' (He's talking about Scott Forstall, the guy in charge of iOS software.
Keeping people in-house, keeps them focused. It can also lead to 'insularity' says Lashinsky. So, it's a delicate balance.
Apple tries to keep the teams working on big products under 100. Since the creation of the Mac, Steve Jobs has always preferred teams to be around that size. It's a way to keep a team focused and organised. It's also a way to replicate a startup within a bigger company.
At most companies, employees who do well in their job are looking for promotions, title bumps, and increased responsibilities. According to Lashinsky, Apple will give people raises, but it tries to keep people in jobs where they excel.
For instance, if you're a great designer, it doesn't necessarily mean you're a great manager of designers. In a normal company, though, you'd have to be promoted to manager to move up in the company's hierarchy. At Apple you can be paid more to do the same job. The idea is to get people in the perfect job, and keep them there.
Lashinsky says Jobs, 'Let people's talent their jobs, not the jobs define the people.'
Apple's PR control is notorious. It rarely answers the press. It rarely makes its executives available for comment. Its number one vehicle for getting its message out is big staged events. In those events it uses the same phrases over and over to drive home its point. And those phrases are always simple and clear for the press and consumers to understand.
Most companies come up with product ideas, marketing plans, and all of that before talking to the designer of the product. At Apple it's flipped. The designers hold all the cards. They determine what's going into the product. From there, Apple figures out the rest.
This is the most important thing at Apple. Create products and experiences that users will love. If you do that well, then the rest will fall into place.