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No one really knows how they do it. Their product launches draw hordes of excited consumers the night before their releases. Each one of their interviews gets a front page. They do their marketing and product development without a single focus group. They’ve disrupted several industries in less than the span of two decades.
With Inside Apple, Fortune’s senior editor-at-large Adam Lashinsky explores how Apple operates internally and externally. Published at the beginning of 2012, the book remains relatively relevant and offers insight into how Apple moves as a company.
The Big Idea
Make Being the Exception the Norm
"Time and again, Apple has made being fed at a special table part of its business model, whether it is dealing with dinosaurs of old media in the music, movie and publishing industries, partners in the telecommunications world, or suppliers who provide it with raw materials to manufacture their goods."
Lashinsky explores the special treatment Apple receives from its partners and collaborators: whether it’s in dealing with music publishers for the iTunes music store, wrestling control away from AT&T for exclusive access to the iPhone, or substituting its own employees into Best Buy to sell Apple products better. Each of these parties was forced to grin and bear the behaviour, and thank Apple for its business. Similarly, despite frequent complaints about Apple’s stringent app submission process, app developers continued to submit their work into the iTunes App Store.
Apple’s able to get away with this because of the power they’ve earned. Whether it’s their beautiful, elegant retail stores that consumers flock to, or their innovative products that can contribute to partners’ bottom lines, anyone interested in dealing with Apple is forced to overlook its lack of flexibility and compromise.
This has some serious implications for any artist or businessperson: while it may not be the most ethical behavior, Apple is proof that even today, as long as you command the bottom line and push great product, you have the ability to remain true to your own artistic vision and command negotiation power. Despite this age of reciprocity and strong word of mouth buzz, Apple still isn’t afraid to step on some toes in order to continue manufacturing things that they are sure people will love. If you often find yourself on the weak end of negotiations, perhaps it’s time to rethink your product and how to improve it: for example, if it’s you negotiating on your own behalf, how can you make yourself more productive or creative? How can you make yourself more valuable to a client or employer?
Why Corporations Die
"‘I think as long as humans don’t solve this human nature trait of sort of settling into a worldview after a while, there will always be opportunity for young companies; young people to innovate, as it should be.’"
As an entrepreneur, Steve Jobs already clearly understood his role: to start companies that will kill off existing leaders. It’s also interesting to note that despite Apple’s size, it still maintained a start-up culture in a few ways.
New projects were built in secrecy, isolated from the rest of the corporation in extremely small groups. This enables the team to move at the velocity of a typical smaller start-up. Jony Ive’s industrial design team at Apple is almost like a small group of consultants, free of corporate groupthink and bureaucracy with direct access to resources and clients.
Jobs took a stab at fusing start-up culture within his own corporation. This has worked out well for him in the past 15 years, while he stood at the helm. The billion dollar question now remains to be answered by Tim Cook, Jony Ive, Eddy Cue, Scott Forstall, and the rest of the Apple executive team: Can Apple continue to succeed without Steve Jobs?
Nonetheless, this is another interesting question to ponder: How can you build the speed and creativity of a start-up, while retaining the stability of a corporation, into your own life as well as the one of your company’s?
Own Your Message
"‘You’re going to do twenty briefings, and they’ll all sound exactly the same to you. But that’s what you want, because the person who is hearing it is hearing it for the first time. And where you get into trouble is where you start to mix it up because you’re getting bored. So one of the key things was: Just use the same words over and over and over again. That will turn into the same words that the consumer hears, which ultimately will turn into the same words that they then use to define the product to their friends."
Borchers, a senior product marketing executive for the iPhone, continues, “‘When we launched the iPhone, it could have been a gazillion things,’ he recalled. ‘It did a huge number of functions and had multiple features.’ Rather than listing a multitude of capabilities, he said, Apple executives ‘boiled it down to three things: It was a revolutionary phone; it was the Internet in your pocket; and it was the best iPod we’d ever created’ (116).”
This consistency of message helped build customer loyalty. Borchers continues later on to say that the best messaging is clear, concise, and repeated.
It’s important not to be everything to everyone. However, even current measures are often still not enough: Could you whittle your personal current iteration down to three areas of focus? In this case, Apple used the same diction and messaging in order to tell a consistent story. Executives would memorize these value propositions of new product launches far in advance. These stories would be tweaked, tested, and reiterated constantly until launch day.
Lashinky’s Inside Apple offers a rare perspective into a very secretive, and excellent, company. There are a ton of principles and little nuances that Apple operates on that can be applied not only into the macrocosm of a business, but also into the microcosm of a professional life.
In the comments below, let us know…
How have you fused start-up and corporate culture in your business? What worked and what didn’t?
And most importantly, what insight will you integrate into your professional and personal life?