Originally I had no intentions to read “yet another” book about Apple – a) I feel a bit queasy about the hype Jobs‘ death set off, and b) I had read some other books in more or less the same domain, back in the 90’s – namely Steven Levy‘s Hackers and Insanely Great (the old edition) respectively, plus Robert X Cringley‘s Accidental Empires (also the old edition) and Katie Hafner‘s Where Wizards Stay Up Late. That I ended up doing it anyway I blame on a colleague who shared a link to a video featuring Adam Lashinsky‘s talking about his book Inside Apple; some of the things he said made me hope that this book might bring an interesting analysis on Apple’s corporate culture and business practice to the table, so eventually I got it.
It is a rather slim volume, only made to look more substantial by the heavy pulp paper and the wide-spaced large typography. The author himself states that he has not been able to secure interviews with any Apple executive – only with people formerly at Apple, and many of those had a guarded attitude. So it is no surprise that many of the events told about in the book are public events or events told by others – the team behind him must have rifled through reams and reams of articles and books and other media to find relevant quotes – and thus already known to those of us who sometimes listen with an ear towards the rumour mill.
Lot’s of regurgitated stuff, thus. Which, given Apple’s attitudes towards information, doesn’t come as a surprise.
Yet I thought the book an interesting read, not least because Apple’s corporate culture and business practices provokes thought.
Apple has partly reached success because they have gambled. Gambled on a design or a product and its viability on the market. They stroke luck, and no one really knows how much of it has been pure luck and how much of it that has been Jobs’ genius in collecting intelligence through networking and information gathering. Or, for that matter, how much of Job’s alleged total control really were total control.
This is not only interesting because it will tell how well Apple will do in times to come but also because it tell something about the possibility to transplant the Apple method to other businesses. Was it only Jobs’ charisma, or was it something more, something tangible and thus repeatable?
Truth is no one knows, and this is why the book feel like a heap of guesswork. A real case study cannot be made in another handful of years. Instead, what was interesting to me was the comparison I, and in some few cases the author as well, can make with another huge company that has retained its cool, in the eyes of people, namely Google.
Where Apple is closed and secret, a secrecy enforced by threat towards the individual – compartmentalised and sect-like – Google is open. Google lives by perpetual beta, everyone who is interested can know what they’re working on. Apple only release what they view as finished products and the less people know beforehand the better. Google encourages innovation on an individual level – at Apple only Jobs, and perhaps a few of his most trusted people, were allowed to think things up. At Apple you did what you were best at, for life. At Google you’re welcome to try your hand at whatever (or so the rumour is).
There is no question that the Google way is more compelling. It’s probably a fun place to work. I bet Google employees don’t have to pay to use the company gym, or has to be paranoid about who they’re talking to.
But. There is a dilemma. I – and I’m hardly alone – always strive for design excellency. Not always achievable, I am, after all, a consultant, but I don’t want to release second class product.
And looking at Google and Apple – who has the nicest, most easy to use, most desirable products? From the point of view of many consumers, me included, something that looks nice and feel nice makes me as a person look and feel good when using it or displaying it for others to see.
Google is an utilitarian stool, made from a sawed off tree trunk stood on its end.
Apple is a Danish designer chair, a piece of modern.
I might not have money enough to buy it but I desire it just as I desire a Ferrari Testarossa.
If you buy a carton of milk while returning home after a tour on town in your Testarossa there’s no room to keep it. No boot (trunk, for you Americans), no storage space. But the storage space is not why I desire the car. It’s something else, something ephemeral.
And, of course – the Apple product is often easy to use, which is more than you can say about an Italian sports-car ;-)
See my dilemma?
Coming back to the review proper I think this is the dilemma the author struggles with as well. A love-hate relationship that makes it hard to step back and be purely objective. See there the strength of a brand, the strength of consequent brand management.
But in the end – this book is a quick glimpse into Apple’s management and business practices, probably aimed at stressed out executives, to read during a boring flight. As such it’s more like a fleshed out magazine cover story than a book.
A person like me who thinks culture and what comes from it is interesting this is a good read. For those who yearn for more tidbits about Jobs there’s nothing new to see. Decide for yourself which category you’re in and read it or not based on that.
Me, I’ll probably get Steven Levy’s In The Plex now, to read for comparison ;-)