Identify an optimal user experience, polish the hell out of it, then perform an airtight integration of every single component, from end-to-end. The software and hardware, the content ecosystem, the physical distribution, all of it fits together perfectly.
When you look at it closely, Apple, as a portfolio of talent, technologies and interacting businesses, resembles the sort of microorganism that Intelligent Design proponents advance as evidence of a god. Everything cooperates in such a concerted, integrated way it's almost impossible to imagine developing any of it in simpler phases.
In a world filled with corporations whose in-fighting and conflicting agendas make them look like mosh pits, Apple has the tightest marching band in history.
edit: Also, anyone notice how often Apple reports their "best quarter ever?"
Having been an Apple employee, it's funny to me when people describe Apple this way. If you think of their operations as perfect, godlike, or seamless, you have no chance of really understanding them or replicating the good parts yourself.
At Apple there are indeed conflicting agendas, moments of doubt, in-fights, technical debts, and lame-duck products. There might be less of these things than other big companies, but it's still just a group of thousands of individuals trying to make great stuff.
But it's a big company, and it has a lot of big company problems.
Puts the whole "biggest startup in the world" business into perspective, I suppose.
I'd love to hear stories from your experience that illustrate how this motivation works. Others have told me that Apple is very big company but somehow this doesn't poison the end-product. I was crediting this to leadership and smart planning, so I'm fascinated to hear the real deal.
I worked at the iTunes Store on video, and it was wild; I started about a year after the store launched, and there were maybe a dozen engineers on the team; by the time I left there had to have been a hundred (10x growth in five years.) What was really motivating was watching the broadcasts of the keynotes -- or being invited to attend -- and seeing the stuff you'd been working on presented by Steve. There was also, I have to admit, a certain charge that came from knowing stuff about future products that wasn't widely disseminated; Apple keeps their teams very segregated, and you often just know a code number or name of something that's passed over the transom, and you don't find out what it is until the rest of the world does.
But that said, siloing can have an adverse effect if you're not working on a hot product; once something is established, executive attention can wander onto something newer and cooler, and big company politics with all that that entails can come into play.
All taken with all, though, it was a fantastic place to work. I recommend it unreservedly.
EDIT: Cleaned up a couple of clunky sentences.
A completely agree, so I think you may have missed my point.
It's worth noting that I think Intelligent Design is horseshit, so god leaps neither from that argument nor from Apple for me. For reference, here's the background:
Flagellar motor (real):
Irreducible complexity (horseshit):
Apple, of course, did evolve from a much less complex organism than it is now, but the overall harmony of its successful products is impressive and demonstrably difficult to replicate. The easy route is to ascribe supernatural powers to Apple's success, but of course the history demonstrates methodical system planning, keen insight, hard work, a bit of fanaticism, and some good timing.
The difference between Apple and other organizations is that while in-fighting and conflicting agendas may exist (as in any human system) this doesn't seem to get in the way of a coherent user product. Compare that with Sony, which can't muster a coherent consumer strategy to save its life. (Well, absent saddling every last product with the proprietary storage device du jour.) Apple may itself not be seamless but the overall experience for users of Apple products is shockingly so, especially when compared to competing gear.
What internal back biting can you share from your tenure at Apple, though? It would be interesting to learn just how aggressively leadership must filter and otherwise confine these impulses to end up with the focus, profits and product mix we see today.
A big key is that things don't ship unless Steve thinks they're great. There's lots of stuff that doesn't ship, and lots of stuff that isn't pursued. However, as a consequence, there's a lot of internal competition to get Steve's attention - or to not get Steve's attention if you're in a services group.
Thank you for posting and describing it this way – it's interesting and not how I originally thought of it, but of course it makes perfect sense.
The basic kernel of replicable process here seems to be:
*Create a single point of accountability for product
*Exercise restraint and focus
*Have uncompromising taste
(aside: Putting it this way, Jobs reminds me of the Illusive Man.)
(Sorry, just realized that was way too cryptic. the Illusive Man was a character in Mass Effect 2 voiced by Martin Sheen. Martin Sheen, of course, played the main character, Willard, in the eminently quotable Apocalypse Now. One of the best lines in the film, in addition to the oft-quoted "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It smells like...victory," as stated by Colonel Kilgore is Willard musing to himself: "Saigon...shit. I'm still only in Saigon."
Incidentally, Sheen was drunk during the filming of the opening scene, and really did cut his hand up. I highly recommend watching the making-of documentary Hearts of Darkness if you ever have the chance.)
It would be slighty more meaningful if you took inflation into account. (Though they are growing way faster than inflation.)
edit: It's also worth mentioning that he cleared out all the dead wood, in terms of leadership, fired the board and re-organized Apple around people whose talent and passion positioned the company well for the future. Most famously, Jonathan Ive was on his way out. Steve discovered him languishing in Apple's Industrial Design labs, creatively wilting, dying to be set loose on something daring. Jobs let him have his way, he built the first iMac and now he's a VP.
The most interesting thing about Apple, from my perspective and theirs, is how often they say no to new opportunities. Focus is the sword they used to cut through bullshit before the turnaround and the sword they use now to plow through a field of opportunities, executing on only the best of the best.
Apple of the early-to-mid-90's was just like any other company. Management fiefdoms, conflicting product strategies, and a sea of impossible to understand variations on the same products. Nothing got done. It survived on the fumes that came from the power of the original Mac, and the DNA that was baked into the company: computers should be made to empower everyone.
The contrast between our small (six person) company and the entrenched folks at Apple was amazing, especially since I had been one of them just a month or two earlier.
Us: Let's get this done. We're three months to financial destruction, let's move.
Apple: (totally not getting it)
... add to this people who stuck their heads in our meetings, saying "Sorry, I'm triple-booked, hi, see you next week."
I can't say I'm sorry to see the old Apple go. (I'm sorry that the Newton was never properly followed-through on, but that's another story).