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Good OM Reading: Inside Apple

February 1, 2012

In my first job out of college, I worked at McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) in St. Louis as an engineer on the design team for the F-4 Phantom jet fighter. Secrecy was pervasive  and I proudly wore my badge with a green dot, meaning “high security” clearance. We were searched coming in and going out daily. But I was always envious of the engineers with the coveted black dot, which was “Top Secret” clearance. They never spoke to us, and operated out of a locked/secure room just 15 feet from my desk. Their project was the F-15 fighter. Black dotters were not even permitted to leave the US without special permission.

Maybe that’s why Adam Lashinsky’s new book, Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works, caught my eye. Apple is surely one of the most scrutinized companies in the world. Just last week, the New York Times ran two front page exposes about Apple’s supply chain and the mistreatment of workers at plants in Asia (see our recent blogs). All companies have secrets, of course, and Apple is not much different from McDonnell Douglas. Like in the defense industry, some areas are even more secret than others. But at Apple everything is a secret. The famous industrial design lab at Apple is so restrictive that few employees have ever seen inside its doors.

This quote provides some insight: “For new recruits, the secret keeping begins even before they learn which of these building they’ll be working in. Despite surviving multiple rounds of rigorous interviews, many employees are hired into dummy positions. The new hires have not yet been indoctrinated, and aren’t necessarily to be trusted with information as sensitive as their own mission. ‘They wouldn’t tell me what it was,’ remembered a former engineer.”

This book is an enjoyable inside look at a great company that doesn’t even permit an organization chart to exist.

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