How Apple's Organizational Structure and Policies Contribute to Company's Strict Secrecy

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Fortune publishes a lengthy excerpt from Adam Lashinsky's forthcoming book, Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired -- and Secretive -- Company Really Works, highlighting the company's famous secrecy and how its organizational structure and policies foster that security.

Those readers interested in reading the book from cover to cover when it debuts next week may want to avoid the excerpt, but for others the piece is an interesting look into how Apple keeps its employees on a need-to-know basis with a patchwork of clearances to ensure that very few know the company's full plans for a given project.
Secrecy takes two basic forms at Apple -- external and internal. There is the obvious kind, the secrecy that Apple uses as a way of keeping its products and practices hidden from competitors and the rest of the outside world. This cloaking device is the easier of the two types for the rank and file to understand because many companies try to keep their innovations under wraps. Internal secrecy, as evidenced by those mysterious walls and off-limits areas, is tougher to stomach. Yet the link between secrecy and productivity is one way that Apple (AAPL) challenges long-held management truths and the notion of transparency as a corporate virtue.
The excerpt discusses Apple's command and control structure in which there is reportedly relatively little political maneuvering, with the company's "unwritten caste system" placing Jonathan Ive's industrial design team among the "untouchable" and the status of many other teams fluctuating relative to the prominence of the products they are working on.

Inside Apple debuts on January 25 and will be available from retailers such as Amazon (hardcover, Kindle e-book, and CD audiobook) and Apple's iBookstore [iTunes Store].

Article Link: How Apple's Organizational Structure and Policies Contribute to Company's Strict Secrecy
 

pjac

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Jun 20, 2007
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Usually in the context of of a caste system, isn't "untouchable" very low - people you don't want to touch who do things like sewerage or collecting dead bodies? Here it is used for very high (untouchable as in above the rules for ordinary workers).
 

danaris

macrumors newbie
Aug 27, 2008
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"Untouchable"?

Um...they do know, don't they, that the "untouchable" caste was the lowest of the low, suitable only for doing the worst dirty jobs?

Edit: hah, ninja'd!
 

vincenz

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Oct 20, 2008
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Usually in the context of of a caste system, isn't "untouchable" very low - people you don't want to touch who do things like sewerage or collecting dead bodies? Here it is used for very high (untouchable as in above the rules for ordinary workers).
You're right. Ive's team should be considered more of the priest class.
 

miles01110

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Jul 24, 2006
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Usually in the context of of a caste system, isn't "untouchable" very low - people you don't want to touch who do things like sewerage or collecting dead bodies? Here it is used for very high (untouchable as in above the rules for ordinary workers).
Um...they do know, don't they, that the "untouchable" caste was the lowest of the low, suitable only for doing the worst dirty jobs?

Edit: hah, ninja'd!
:rolleyes:

Leave the thinking to those of us capable of understanding context.
 

underlircs

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FYI, if Sir Ive's team are considered to be the untouchables in the Apple caste system, then they would be considered tainted and unclean; they'd be social pariahs. While the term "untouchables" holds a different meaning in the West. In reference to Indian, a better term might be "Kshatriya"...warriors.
 

bbeagle

macrumors 68040
Oct 19, 2010
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Buffalo, NY
kinda ironic how a book about apple secrecy is being sold on the iBookstore :p
There's a difference between

a) Giving away Apple's secrets
b) Describing Apple's policies and procedures on keeping things secret (which is relevant to other companies trying to do the same thing)

This book is of type 'b'. Of course it is allowed on the iBookstore.
 

basesloaded190

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Oct 16, 2007
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What ever they are doing inside Apple seems to be working because the amount of press they receive for products not even introduced is remarkable.
 

britboyj

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Apr 8, 2009
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As someone who worked both for Apple Retail and Corporate, I can vouch for this. We were selling things up until the very moment of an announcement the new version came out. It resulted in some PO'd customers and changed plans.
 

xxplosive1984

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Jun 7, 2009
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Dallas, TX
Unless the author previously worked for Apple (definitely would have had to been a 'higher-up'), how in the world would he know about Apple's inner-workings? I'm not buying it literally nor figuratively.
 

loosegee

macrumors newbie
Oct 7, 2011
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I think the author is referring to Ive's team as 'untouchable' because that's how they are known within Apple, not with regard to the caste system.
 

Shrink

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Feb 26, 2011
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These guys could give our intelligence agencies some lessons.

(Just a joke, just a joke...I don't want any nice folks in black suits showing up at my door!;))
 

atomwork

macrumors regular
Jun 5, 2001
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Smart

I don't see how this is negative in any way. Look at the history this company has had and the success. Surly you want maximum secrecy with any tech firm at this level. Microsoft, Samsung, Google all have off limit areas.

I think these tech firms spy harder against each other as countries do. :)
 

Rogifan

macrumors Core
Nov 14, 2011
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I think the author is referring to Ive's team as 'untouchable' because that's how they are known within Apple, not with regard to the caste system.
Obviously he didn't word it well. But from what I've read it's well known that the ID team has the most power within Apple. Heck Steve admitted as much to Walter Isaccson. And there's this antidote from John Sculley:

An anecdotal story, a friend of mine was at meetings at Apple and Microsoft on the same day and this was in the last year, so this was recently. He went into the Apple meeting (he’s a vendor for Apple) and when he went into the meeting at Apple as soon as the designers walked in the room, everyone stopped talking because the designers are the most respected people in the organization. Everyone knows the designers speak for Steve because they have direct reporting to him. It is only at Apple where design reports directly to the CEO.

Later in the day he was at Microsoft. When he went into the Microsoft meeting, everybody was talking and then the meeting starts and no designers ever walk into the room. All the technical people are sitting there trying to add their ideas of what ought to be in the design. That’s a recipe for disaster.
 

JesseFogarty

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Jan 14, 2012
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Besides wanting to read the book now, I just thought about if I were an Apple employee - and how I'd savour my only free lunch :p
 
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FaustsHausUK

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Mar 11, 2010
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Chicago, IL
As someone who worked both for Apple Retail and Corporate, I can vouch for this. We were selling things up until the very moment of an announcement the new version came out. It resulted in some PO'd customers and changed plans.
Don't retail stores typically see reduced shipments of the older model in the few days leading up to the release? Also, given that you visit a site like Mac Rumors, I'd assume you would have an inkling of when a new version was coming so you could have kept a customer happy by saying: "Come back next week, wink wink, nudge nudge." :)
 

*LTD*

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Feb 5, 2009
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Fixed.

How Apple's Organizational Structure and Policies Contribute to Company's Strict Secrecy . . . and unprecedented success

The "secrecy" does not exist on its own, without a purpose.
 

JonneyGee

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FaustsHausUK said:
As someone who worked both for Apple Retail and Corporate, I can vouch for this. We were selling things up until the very moment of an announcement the new version came out. It resulted in some PO'd customers and changed plans.
Don't retail stores typically see reduced shipments of the older model in the few days leading up to the release? Also, given that you visit a site like Mac Rumors, I'd assume you would have an inkling of when a new version was coming so you could have kept a customer happy by saying: "Come back next week, wink wink, nudge nudge." :)
I was in an Apple Store when the announcement was made about free bumpers for the iPhone 4. Even after the announcement, the employees still had no idea (I think they found out via memo later that day). I was shocked I heard an official announcement before the employees knew. Shows how far their internal privacy goes.
 

vrDrew

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Jan 31, 2010
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I can think of very few, if any, organizations that manage security with anything like the skill that Apple does. The CIA, Mossad, MI-5 and NSA might very well be more "secretive" - but by their very definition, we are unlikely to ever know about their greatest successes or failures. And Apple's "secrecy" has a very different goal than that of any intelligence agency.

Apple works in a very challenging environment. While its research labs and product development teams might work in an environment of blacked out conference rooms and air-tight non-disclosure contracts, it also subcontracts all of its production to companies that employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers. People for whom a couple hundred dollars in cash might represent a vast fortune.

And yet Apple has been remarkably effective at keeping its biggest breakthroughs secret, or at least "off the radar". (Fun project, do a forum search on the word "Siri", looking ONLY at posts older than six months. Where was the crowd loudly predicting this would be the "must have" feature of the next iPhone?)

This suggests, to me at least, that Apple has a very good appreciation of the role of internet sites such as this one, in its product roll-put plans. And that, at the very highest levels of the company there is a strategy in place to manage both expectations and "rumors" about upcoming products and features.

All of which suggests we ought to regard any, and all, "rumors" with the utmost skepticism. We know the next iPhone isn't going to feature time travel or levitation. But we ought to think, very hard, about all the costs and implications of all sorts of widely predicted features - from Retina displays to waterproofing - and ask ourselves the hardest question of all: Is this just Apple trying to head-fake Samsung and HTC into an expensive wild goose chase?