“At Apple Everything Is A Secret”

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Keen On…. Adam Lashinsky: How Apple Really Works (TCTV)

All companies have secrets, of course. The difference is that at Apple everything is a secret.—Adam Lashinsky, Inside Apple

Last year, the Steve Jobs biography was the best-selling book on Amazon. But there is another book about Apple coming out which isn’t authorized that delves into the culture of secrecy at Apple. Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired—and Secretive—Company Really Works was written by Fortune senior editor at large Adam Lashinsky, based on a Fortune story he wrote last summer. (Lashinsky spoke with Andrew Keen on TCTV—Part 1 of that interview is up).

The book details how Apple keeps its secrets by policing both internal and external leaks. Employees are kept in the dark about what their colleagues are doing and restricted where they can go on campus. Fortune is running an excerpt:

Apple employees know something big is afoot when the carpenters appear in their office building. New walls are quickly erected. Doors are added and new security protocols put into place. Windows that once were transparent are now frosted. Other rooms have no windows at all. They are called lockdown rooms: No information goes in or out without a reason.

The hubbub is disconcerting for employees. Quite likely you have no idea what is going on, and it’s not like you’re going to ask. If it hasn’t been disclosed to you, then it’s literally none of your business. What’s more, your badge, which got you into particular areas before the new construction, no longer works in those places. All you can surmise is that a new, highly secretive project is under way, and you are not in the know. End of story.

The reasons for all the secrecy are twofold: to maximize the free press coverage and buzz at launch and to keep demand high for existing products still on the shelves.

But the internal secrecy is almost more intense than the external secrecy. Employees who reveal Apple secrets are fired immediately, even if it’s just loose talk at the pub across the street from the Cupertino campus (where plainclothes Apple security officials are rumored to sometimes lurk). Everyone in a meeting must have security clearance to discuss the project at hand. Some of these techniques sound like they were borrowed from the CIA or a “terrorist organization,” as former Apple hardware chief Jon Rubinstein once said. Jobs also found inspiration from Walt Disney, who was another famously secretive CEO.

Teams are purposely kept apart, sometimes because they are unknowingly competing against one another, but more often because the Apple way is to mind one’s own business. This has a side benefit that is striking in its simplicity: Employees prevented from butting into one another’s affairs will have more time to focus on their own work. Below a certain level, it is difficult to play politics at Apple, because the average employee doesn’t have enough information to get into the game. Like a horse fitted with blinders, the Apple employee charges forward to the exclusion of all else.

Apple is not a fun place to work, according to Lashinsky. It is an intense place, ruled a bit by fear but also because it is a higher calling. Apple employees are paid competitive salaries, but nothing exorbitant like you find at other Valley companies. They don’t do it for the money either. They do it for the products. If it sounds a bit cultish, it is. What is revered is the product. Either you’ve got the Apple religion, or you don’t. That is as true for Apple consumers as it is for its employees.