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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.

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.




This corresponds closely with my experience, as well. What keeps the wheels from falling off is largely people's emotional investment in product; the harshest assessments of Apple's product I've ever heard came from Apple employees. Too, everybody loves a winner, and Apple's been doing a lot of winning lately; it keeps people motivated when they can read about their projects in the Times.

But it's a big company, and it has a lot of big company problems.


This is really interesting to me – self-organizing passion keeps things juiced more than the strategy or leadership?

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.


It largely depends on which group you're in. There are people working on stuff that's just sort of ticking along (there's a lot of technology in OS X, some of it sort of hidden -- like the latent semantic analysis framework, which is solely used for Parental Controls), or are inherently sort of gross (QuickTime for Windows, I'm looking at you), and I imagine that their experience would be different from e.g. the people working on iOS or hardware engineering on the Macbook Air or XCode.

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.


> 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.

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):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flagellum#Evolution_of_flagella...

Irreducible complexity (horseshit):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irreducible_complexity

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.


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.


Oh, too interesting. So because Steve holds the keys to the kingdom, incentives align in such a way that competition within Apple surrounds capturing his interest. Every system has an exploit – Apple's would then depend upon hacking Steve, or his circle, for maximum personal gain. Steve ends up being the filter for ambition that doesn't match Apple's long term agenda, while amplifying ambition that does. He's sitting at a loom, weaving all the stuff he likes into the long term vision and squashing everything else.

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
It doesn't necessarily scale well, but Apple's numbers suggest it doesn't really need to.

(aside: Putting it this way, Jobs reminds me of the Illusive Man.)


Saigon...Shit.

(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.)


Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a product, and for my sins, Steve gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice product, and when it was over, I never wanted another.




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