Adam Lashinsky is a veteran Silicon Valley journalist and Senior Editor at Large for Fortune. Lashinsky wrote a riveting feature last year on the inner workings of Apple’s secretive culture that prompted him to publish Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works in January of 2012.
Inside Apple is a short read (about 180 pages) that provides several peeks behind the thick veil of secrecy Apple keeps between itself and the outside world. After reading Lashinsky’s portrayal of the company, you should have a better understanding of how Apple works and what makes it tick. Your perception of the world’s most valuable technology company should be challenged with fascinating stories from inside the walls of Cupertino.
The most obvious takeaway I got from Lashinsky’s book is that Apple is not a fun place to work. Apple employees are focused, ideal-driven workers that don’t slave under an iron fist for an ego trip or fat paycheck. The internal culture of Apple is one of perfectionism where the product is elevated as the first and foremost priority in every aspect of business. Apple isn’t your typical Silicon Valley company, in fact, it’s unlike any other company on earth.
[Warning: This review contains spoilers.]
While much of Inside Apple is Lashinsky’s informed retelling of Apple’s history and how it will function post-Steve Jobs, there are little nuggets of information that Apple fanatics will undoubtedly appreciate.
“The easiest way to get something done was to write an email with STEVE REQUEST in the subject line,” said a former employee. “If you saw an email with a STEVE REQUEST at the top that would definitely get your attention.” The result was a company that marched in lockstep with the perceived beat of a charismatic leader who was omnipresent.
Steve Jobs’ profound influence on Apple cannot be understated. Everything was for Steve and ultimately credited to Steve. Employees had a bigger-than-life boss that drove them to achieve excellence. “But they believed that whatever they were working on would be seen, eventually, by “Steve.” For all flowed up to him, and his fingertips were on everything important that Apple did.”
While reading Inside Apple, I noticed how Lashinsky consistently focused on Steve Jobs throughout the entire book. Certain chapters do pertain to Tim Cook and other Apple execs, but Steve Jobs was always the backbone of the company. While not quite as biographical in nature as Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs, Lashinsky uses Jobs as the catalyst for most of his specific anecdotes and overall narrative.
There are several parts of Inside Apple that have already been highlighted by the press, like the lockdown rooms, employee dummy positions and packaging room, but the book contains many other interesting factoids.
The most obvious takeaway is that Apple is based on secrets:
Another Valley engineer plays in a regular poker game with a team of Apple employees. The understanding is that if Apple comes up at the card table, the subject will be changed. Being fired for blabbing is a well-founded concern. For example, people working on launch events will be given watermarked paper copies of a booklet called Rules of the Road that details every milestone leading up to launch day. In the booklet is a legal statement whose message is clear: If this copy ends up in the wrong hands, the responsible party will be fired.
Visitors are allowed at Apple offices, but they are kept under tight wraps. Some report being shocked at the unwillingness of employees to leave their guests unattended for even a few moments in the cafeteria. A tech-industry executive visiting a friend in mid-2011 was asked not to post anything to Twitter about the visit or to “check in” at the popular website Foursquare, which publishes a user’s location. In Apple’s view of the world, simply revealing that someone visited Apple on undisclosed business could lead to divulging something about Apple’s agenda.
Apple created an elaborate and unnerving system to enforce internal secrecy. It revolves around the concept of disclosure. To discuss a topic at a meeting, one must be sure everyone in the room is “disclosed” on the topic, meaning they have been made privy to certain secrets. “You can’t talk about any secret until you’re sure everyone is disclosed on it,” said an ex-employee. As a result, Apple employees and their projects are pieces of a puzzle. The snapshot of the completed puzzle is known only at the highest reaches of the organization. It calls to mind the cells a resistance organization plants behind enemy lines, whose members aren’t given information that could incriminate a comrade.
You’ll find out more about Apple’s internal workings while reading Inside Apple, like the small group of engineers that carry the title of DEST (distinguished engineer/scientist, technologist). The industrial designers are “untouchable” on campus, and responsibility is always delegated to the DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) for a certain project.
Lashinsky also details the Apple New Product Process, or ANPP. This playbook automates “the science part so you can focus on the art.” Every Apple product follows the ANPP. Once a certain product is ready to leave the design labs, an engineering program manager (EPM) and global supply manager (GSM) take the reigns. Tim Cook built a robust operations process in China that the EPM and GSM are directly involved in from start to finish. The system is a well-oiled, proven one that gives Apple the ultimate level of control over its supply chain activity overseas.
Apple’s executives are described as “talented rich kids” by Lashinsky. They have access to nearly infinite resources and money isn’t a factor for pursuing product ideas and getting things just right. Jonathan Ive famously requested that the Italian marble for Apple’s first Manhattan store be flown to Cupertino for him to personally inspect. The executive team meets every Monday to discuss products. While he was running operations, Tim Cook used to prep his employees for Monday’s meeting over telephone on Sunday night. Commitment is an essential trait within Apple’s corporate culture.
Inside Apple addresses the company’s new CEO in detail. Tim Cook is described as a man with a “prodigious memory and command of the facts.” Cook is the kind of executive that relies on spreadsheets; he is a very detail-orientated leader. Cook is intimately familiar with Apple’s products and operational affairs. While he possesses an incredible work ethic, he enjoys hiking in Yosemite National Park and cycling.
Lashinsky gives details about Scott Forstall (the most Steve Jobs-like executive at Apple), Eddy Cue, and the unsung heroes of our favorite fruit company. Most don’t know that a young executive by the name of Hiroki Asai is responsible for all of Apple’s promotional materials and global branding. Described as a “silent force” that knows how to “channel Steve,” Asai looks like he could still be a design student in college. Instead of taking classes, he’s leading the creative marketing for one of the most powerful brands in the world.
You’ll learn a lot while reading Inside Apple. Steve Jobs hated Fox News. Katie Cotton runs Apple’s notoriously tight-lipped PR department. Only five executives were authorized to talk publicly about the iPhone when it launched in 2007. Steve Jobs met with Lytro to talk about revolutionizing mobile photography before he died. Siri means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” in Norwegian.
Apple is a treasure trove of secrets, and Lashinsky attempts to shed light on the dark and mysterious world of Cupertino. He also looks ahead at what it will take for Apple to continue succeeding (noting that “”the competition still will not have Steve Jobs”), and how other businesses can learn and apply Apple’s outlook on business. Lashinsky quotes many other journalists and authors, including our very own Leander Kahney, and his book will be appreciated by the business sector and Apple cultists alike.
Inside Apple is a must-read for any self-professed Apple fan. The book is available on Amazon, at your local Barnes and Noble, and the iBookstore.