10 Lessons From Inside Apple

Adam Lashinsky details the top 10 lessons he learned from Apple while writing Inside Apple, his new book.
Chief Evangelist, Canva
February 14, 2012

Adam Lashinsky's recent book, Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired—and Secretive—Company Really Works, is revealing. Lashinsky is a longtime friend and a senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine. I asked him what he thinks are the top 10 lessons from Apple. - Guy Kawasaki

Lashinsky writes:

Steve Jobs was known as a rule-breaker. He didn’t want license plates on his car, for instance, so he didn’t have them. As I researched my book, a theme emerged of how differently Apple does things than the rest of the business world. Just how he fashioned Apple into a rule-breaking company is a good story.

In instance after instance, Apple thumbs its nose at what MBA programs consider to be the best practices of modern business. Here are 10 lessons that any company might apply—with caution—to doing things the Apple way.

1. Design comes first

Every product manufacturer emphasizes design. Apple taught us, under the direction of Jonathan Ive, that design is paramount. Steve Jobs literally made the rest of the process subservient to design. That is revolutionary in a world where product-management and financial people conceive of products first and then tell the designers what to do. At Apple, it is the opposite.

Apple’s emphasis on design is what led to the beauty of Apple’s products, and, undeniably, its financial success.

2. Secrecy is paramount

Apple changed the rules of the game on how to clamp down on corporate secrets. My book describes the sometimes creepy lengths Apple goes to keep its secrets from the outside world and from its own employees. Apple employees live in constant fear of termination if they divulge anything about the inner workings of their company.

The reign of terror works. Despite the increasing drumbeat of rumors about what to expect from Apple, the company keeps a lid on its plans better than any company its size. What’s more, its people are focused, freed from the temptation to gossip or play politics—because they don’t have enough information to do so.

3. Forget revenues

Apple never enters a new field with the idea of making money. It doesn’t ignore revenue, of course. In fact, it has a sophisticated approach to pricing its products globally. But the genesis of a new product segment at Apple never is about revenue optimization. It is always about what kick-ass gizmo or service Apple could make that its own executives would love to use.

It’s a variant of "Do what you love and the money will follow." In Apple’s case, it’s "Make what you love, and the revenue will come rushing in."

4. Tell customers, don’t ask

Because Apple makes products its executives want to use, it is able to skip the expensive and potentially distracting step of conducting focus groups. Apple delights customers by giving them products they didn’t know they wanted.

How could a customer possibly give feedback on a product they don’t know they want? Is this risky? Absolutely. Big risk, big reward.

5. Create one company, not many

Apple is revolutionary for its size in that there are no committees, no separate ad budgets, no fiefdoms. Jobs got the whole company pulling in one direction under his leadership. Just the way a startup would.

Think of the Apple brand: There’s just one. And Apple guards it zealously. So few big companies control their brand the way Apple does, and one of the ways Apple does it is by having the brand stand for everything that goes on at the company.

6. Say no

Over and over, Apple has chosen not to pursue new products or services. It’s a matter of focus. Common sense, obviously, but given the follies of so many big companies that chase new markets, it’s radical.

Saying no is much more difficult than saying yes. (Ask any parent.) Apple says no not only to products—it waited years to make a phone—but also to features within the products. The lack of a USB connection in the iPad is an example. These omissions annoy some customers. But the choices account for the overall excellence Apple achieves.

7. Value expertise

Apple laughs at the idea of general management. Why in the world would a company want to “broaden” its executives by exposing them to new things or different parts of the world when they already create tremendous value for shareholders by doing exactly what they’re doing?

There are limitations to this approach to be sure. But Apple hires the best in their fields and then focuses these people like lasers on their assigned tasks.

8. Own your message

Remember the phrase “1,000 songs in your pocket”? Of course you do. It’s because when Apple launched the iPod, the executives who were authorized to speak to the news media repeated the phrase over and over again.

It’s classic Apple: Craft, control and repeat the message.

9. Spend whatever it takes

Apple employees describe their teams as being resource-constrained. But when it comes to making or marketing products, Apple pulls out all the stops. Sure, you say, that’s easy for a company with nearly $100 billion in cash. But Apple has been behaving this way since it was tiny.

No expense can be spared in delighting customers. The return is obvious.

10. Be insanely great

Easier said than done, sure. But understand that Steve Jobs’ famous boast about Apple is aspirational. A company that believes its products will be insanely great has a shot at making insanely great products.

The company that hems itself in by thinking about next quarter’s numbers, well, you know some words to describe the products they’ll turn out.

Be sure to read Adam’s book, Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired—and Secretive—Company Really Works, to learn more about Apple and Steve Jobs.

Chief Evangelist, Canva