A rare peek inside Apple University, or how to think like Steve Jobs

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How will the culture Steve Jobs cultivated at Apple continue to live on after his death? That was the main question being asked when Jobs lost the battle to cancer in 2011.

Part of the answer is a program Jobs put together around the time of the original iPhone launch. Apple University, which works almost exactly like you would imagine, teaches employees about the company’s history and ethos. Real class names include “Communicating at Apple,” “What Makes Apple, Apple,” and “The Best Things.”

In the most in-depth look at the educational program to date, The New York Times sheds light on the kinds of classes Ivy League professors teach about everything from designing like Picasso to choosing which buttons go on a TV remote.

In a profile published Sunday night, the Times detailed Apple University based on speaking with three anonymous Apple employees who went through the program.

Apple University was briefly touched on in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, and here’s what the LA Times reported in 2011:

“Steve was looking to his legacy. The idea was to take what is unique about Apple and create a forum that can impart that DNA to future generations of Apple employees,” said a former Apple executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve his relationship with the company. “No other company has a university charged with probing so deeply into the roots of what makes the company so successful.”

Jobs brought on Joel Podolny, the former dean of Yale’s School of Management, to run the program in 2008. Its full-time faculty members come from schools like Harvard, Berkeley, M.I.T., and Stanford. New and existing employees can just sign up for classes like college students.

One particular teaching moment the Times shares is how the Apple design process is like Picasso’s, who ironically is the source of a famous quote that is commonly attributed to Steve Jobs.  Designing to simplify is the idea:

In a version of the class taught last year, Mr. Nelson showed a slide of “The Bull,” a series of 11 lithographs of a bull that Picasso created over about a month, starting in late 1945. In the early stages, the bull has a snout, shoulder shanks and hooves, but over the iterations, those details vanish. The last image is a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull.

“You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do,” recalled one person who took the course.

The whole article is definitely worth a read.

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About the author

Alex HeathAlex Heath has been a staff writer at Cult of Mac for three years. He is also a co-host of the CultCast. He has been quoted by the likes of the BBC, KRON 4 News, and books like "ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation." If you want to pitch a story, share a tip, or just get in touch, additional contact information is available on his personal site. Twitter always works too.

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