The aptly named Bryan Appleyard had an interesting profile in the Times of London. He wrote about Steve Jobs without actually being allowed to talk to the man and resulting tale sounds more like a Mark Oliver profile of the Bilderbergers than a fluff piece on a popular company. However, what Appleyard did come away with was a picture of a company so strange and dysfunctional it makes most Communist dictatorships look like fantasy football leagues.
One of the best paragraphs describes Apple’s development style:
The answer is that, along with computers, iPhones and iPods, secrecy is one of Apple’s signature products. A cult of corporate omerta — the mafia code of silence — is ruthlessly enforced, with employees sacked for leaks and careless talk. Executives feed deliberate misinformation into one part of the company so that any leak can be traced back to its source. Workers on sensitive projects have to pass through many layers of security. Once at their desks or benches, they are monitored by cameras and they must cover up devices with black cloaks and turn on red warning lights when they are uncovered. “The secrecy is beyond fastidious and is in fact insultingly petty and political,” says one employee on the anonymous corporate reporting site Glassdoor.com, “and often is an impediment to actually getting one’s work done.”
And we’re surprised there was a suicide?
That’s right: when you’re working on the new iPhone they’re going to watch you and turn on a Red Light Special lamp over your head. As Jef Raskin notes, Jobs would have been an “excellent king of France.”
But will we listen? Will we ever tear down this cult of personality? Probably not. Apple does what Apple does and we – though increasingly fewer of us – walk in lock-step. Writing about the company is surprisingly hard and going past the obvious PR and marketing layer is difficult. Even Appleyard had a heck of a time and it shows in this piece. Instead of Jobs being described as a nice guy who drives to work and makes phones he becomes a “productive narcissist” with daddy issues and who could be compared with a syphilitic Bourbon potentate.
I’m going to write a few more words and then encourage you to go read the piece. Today when I went to Apple.com for something or the other I felt a little tinge of revulsion. This has been Apple’s summer, whether it wanted it to be or not. We’re talking about Snow Leopard and tablets and prototypes and all this jazz and we’re all amped up on fermented Apple juice. I kind of feel that no, Apple, doesn’t deserve all this attention and that Windows 7 need a little love and what about the Creative Zii…
But just as no IT guy will get fired for buying Microsoft, no blogger will get fired for writing about Apple. For better or worse Jobs’ strange strategy worked. Comparing Apple with other computer companies is almost impossible. Through force of will and a strange internal culture, Apple has left the map entirely and is operating in its own rarified astral plane. I wonder, however, how many of us want to keep looking up when there’s great stuff right in front of us.