Inside Apple by Adam Lashinksky, book review

INSIDE APPLE: How America’s Most Admired–And Secretive–Company Really Works, by Adam Lashinsky. Published January 2012 by Business Plus of the Hachette Book Group. At slightly over 200 pages this is a clear, fast, easy read, for which I am always grateful.

I enjoyed this book and, more importantly, was educated.  The author gives an excellent analysis of what Apple has been and poses thoughtful questions as to what it may be.  A lot of food for thought.

It is a somewhat generalized insight into Apple Corporation structure and methods, more about Apple and less about Steve Jobs, though he can hardly be ignored in any work about Apple.  The business side of the company made the 500 page instant classic biography STEVE JOBS by Walter Isaacson (my comments on this fine read here), equally interesting to me.  All things Apple have received more attention since the death of the iconic CEO Steve Jobs in October 2011. The stock price has moved from $378 to $600 despite the question as to whether Apple can continue to be successful without Jobs’ singular oversight. So far so good.

I say the book is generalized because Apple operates with considerable secrecy. Thus a book about Inside Apple is no easy feat. It teems with quotes from mostly unnamed ex-Apple employees. ‘Ex-software engineer’, ‘former executive of such-and-such’, etc. I’d be curious to know how the author found so many ex-employees to start with.  As the author is a senior editor with Fortune Magazine and frequent contributor on Fox News business shows who has written about Apple in the past, I’m sure he had his sources.

Some of the ten chapters are:

Chp. 1: Rethink Leadership:
Jobs was rude, demanding, dictatorial, intuitive, and insightful, all to the nth degree. IMO Apple succeeded because of him and in spite of him.  A few things Lashinsky says about Apple:
“Apple is secretive at a time when the prevailing trend in business is toward transparency. Far from being empowered, its people operate within a narrow band of responsibility.” (p. 7)
“Apple flouts yet another piece of modern management’s love of efficiency: It consistently leaves money on the table at a moment when profits are king and quarterly earnings exert a tyrannical sway over its fellow publicly traded companies.” (p. 7)
“Jobs… …micromanaged to a shockingly high degree and to an amazingly low level in the organization.” (p. 19)
“…a “productive narcissist””, “obsessive”, “…infused the company with his own idiosyncracies”.

Chp. 2: Embrace Secrecy:
If I told you anything about this I’d have to kill you, as the not very funny quip goes. Think extreme secrecy, internally and externally. The author notes that this works a lot better than a lot of failed pre-announcements and slipped release dates that have plagued other companies.

Chp. 3: Focus Obsessively:
Just think corporate anal retentive (excessively orderly and fussy).
“Obsessing over details and bring a Buddhist level of focus to a narrow assortment of offerings sets Apple apart from its competitors.” (p. 51)

I’m not sure what Lashinsky has against other computer manufacturers but while discussing Apple’s attention to detail he says:

“Evoking a feeling is an extraordinary act for a device maker, let alone a packaging designer working for a device maker. (Try to imagine a Dell laptop evoking a feeling of any kind, other than frustration.)” (P. 51)
I found the disparaging remark memorable in its uselessness and wondered what personal grudge the author had against Dell. I find all modern-day packaging fairly innovative. Why single out any computer manufacturer?

Make everything, control everything. Jobs: “Apple’s the only company that has everything under one roof. There’s no other company that could make a MacBook Air and the reason is that not only do we control the hardware, but we control the operating system.” (p. 57)

Chp. 4: Stay Start-Up Hungry:
“When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1997, it looked like big companies everywhere.” “The company had grown bureaucratic…” …fiefdoms had arisen, each with budgeting powers and sometimes-competing agendas.” “From the moment Jobs returned, the corporate culture changed. Now it would move in unison, fiefdoms would be banished, and employees would focus on whatever it was they did best–and nothing else. To this day graphics runs graphics; logistics controls logistics; finance worries about the bottom line.” (p. 65)

The notion of responsibility is enshrined at Apple in a Company acronym, the DRI. It stands for “Directly Responsible Individual,” and it is the person on any given assignment who will be called on the carpet if something isn’t done right.” (p. 67)

“…he [Jobs] also snuffed out that standby of managerial power, the “P&L”.” [Profit and loss statement.] (p. 68)

Can you imagine not having a departmental budget? At the corporation where I worked we had a departmental budget and, not unlike a government agency, we made sure we spent it all in any given year so we could justify that much or more in the next year. I suppose if you zealously believe in your products and have the focus and commitment to make them work then you will take the risk to spend the money necessary to fulfill them, rather than produce only as much as you think you can frugally afford. What a novel idea.

Page 74 summarizes the corporate philosophy: “Put these corporate attributes together–clear direction, individual accountability, a sense of urgency, constant feedback, clarity of mission–and you begin to have a sense of Apple’s values.”

A-players: “…a former Apple executive, remembered a more concise Steve-ism on the subject of talent: “A players hire A players, and B players hire C players. We want only A players here.”” (p. 77)

Insularity. Small teams, like a start-up.

After four chapters are we seeing notable characteristics?
Micromanagement. (Shudder that managers should have their fingers on the pulse of their products.)
Extreme obsessiveness, focus, and attention to detail.
Secrecy and insularity, internally and externally.
Small teams.
Individual responsibility, the DRI.
Product dictates finance, not vice versa.

Chp. 5: Hire Disciples:
1998, enter Tim Cook, now 51 yrs old, CEO and a member of the Apple Board of Directors.
“The new recruit quickly closed all of Apple’s factories, opting instead to mimic industry leader Dell by outsourcing manufacturing.” (p. 95) (Yes, the author said something nice about Dell.)
“Inventory, Cook would later explain, “is fundamentally evil. You want to manage it like you’re in the dairy business: If it gets past its freshness date, you have a problem.”” (p. 95)

This sounds similar to just-in-time inventory management. Not unique to Apple. Efficient, but requiring, oh my, focus and attention to detail.

1992, enter Jonathan Ive, now 45 yrs old, THE industrial designer at Apple.

Entire career with Jobs and/or Apple, Scott James Forstall, about 43 yrs old, now SVP iOS Software.

Do we see a trend here? Youth, longevity with Apple. See the official corporate bios of these and others mentioned in the book here.

Chp. 6: Own Your Message:

“As part of its plan to debut, market, and sell each product, Apple decides who will speak about it and to whom, what the talking points will be, and which members of the press will be blessed with coveted interviews. The precise words Apple uses to communicate its message are repeated so many times that everyone, internally and externally, can recite them by heart.
The hallmarks of the Apple product message are, as with so much at Apple, simplicity and clarity.” (p. 116)
“Consistency of message helps build customer loyalty.” “…the best messaging is clear, concise, and repeated…”

Chp. 7: Overwhelm Friends/Dominate Foes:

“Arguably because Apple did things its own way, forging a business model that is unique in so many ways, Apple also institutionalized a culture of playing by its own rules. Partners of all types, from suppliers to consultants to collaborators, find out soon enough that Apple’s playbook is the only one that matters.” (p. 143)

Chp. 8: Plan for After Your Successor
What would Steve do?
What will Apple do?
Chp. 9: Inspire Imitators
Chp. 10: One More Thing

‘Nuff said.

If you are interested in what has made one of the most successful corporations of modern times work, this is book for you.  It held my attention from start to finish.  I recommend it.

Related articles for those all-things-Apple obsessed, suggested by WordPress, which I haven’t read.

The definitive history of Apple’s early days, IMO (I haven’t read it) is by Andy Hertzfeld, a key member of the original Macintosh development team in the 1980s.

2 thoughts on “Inside Apple by Adam Lashinksky, book review

  1. I liked Isaacson’s book immensely. More insightful on the man himself. Too bad his ego got in the way of proper treatment for his fatal illness, pancreatic cancer, though that is a tough one to beat. My father died of complications from that. Wikipedia tells me that at his funeral “Each attendee was given a small brown box as a “farewell gift” from Jobs. The box contained a copy of the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.” I read that book in the early 70s hippy peace and love days and found it quite moving at the time.


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