HomeTechApple's penchant for secrecy nearly stifled its innovation

Apple’s penchant for secrecy nearly stifled its innovation


Over the past decade or so, we’ve been exposed to some of Apple’s deepest secrets. Whether it’s small tidbits, leaked images of parts, or devices – we’ve seen it all. At one point the issue became so rampant, that Apple created a task force of sorts to combat the problem. But because of this, Apple faced a tipping point, requiring it to reevaluate and change some of its internal practices.

Chris Deaver, who was once Senior HR Business Partner and “Culture & People Leader” at Apple, gives us a rare look inside his time there. Deaver joined Apple in 2015 and was immediately impressed. On the surface, he saw some of the greatest minds, delivering some of the best hardware and software in the industry. But under its shiny exterior, there was a problem. A problem that spawned from the company’s penchant for secrecy.

“I started to wonder what this all meant. I’d hear one new employee after another, brilliant people, asking the essential question: “How do I operate like this? If I can only share information with certain people, how do I know who and when? I don’t want to end up fired or in jail.””

Apple had long been known for its secrecy, with the development of products and services accomplished in small teams. But, as the firm expanded, this model created frustration – stifling innovation. Deaver saw the development process of the original AirPods as a perfect case study. As usual, teams worked independently, only converging at the last minute. The result was a trainwreck, wrought with frustration and tension. Despite this, Apple’s AirPods would come to market and prove to be a big success, giving the company another product line and revenue stream. While this development process worked, the real question was what could be done to make things better?

The result was a trainwreck, wrought with frustration

Deaver saw this as an opportunity and in order to prevent history from repeating itself. He borrowed an idea from Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull. Catmull believed in the idea that sharing candidly in a safe environment could yield the best results. This environment was dubbed the braintrust and was a way for true collaboration. Deaver would diligently research and observe the company, eventually finding that the camera department had a functioning braintrust.  This type of collaboration is what he needed in order to free Apple from its shadow of secrecy, liberating its employees while also increasing its potential.

Deaver would go on to create best practices for teams, with a core component being the ability to share candidly. This led to teams discussing details about the challenges they faced, where they were in development, and most importantly, brought collaboration so that they could succeed. According to Deaver, this change would lead to the development of the AirPods Pro. Since that time, the company has gone on to release numerous innovations and products. While it is unclear just how much impact Deavers methods yielded, it’s hard to argue when Apple had its most profitable quarter yet.

Source: Fast Company 



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