I’ve just completed reading Inside Apple by Adam Lashinsky. Other reviewers elsewhere have noted it is a quick and easy read, and it does offer some fascinating insights into a company we all follow slavishly, no matter our feelings about its products.
I read this book having completed Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs a few weeks ago, and I would advise anyone intending to read both to put a greater distance between the two reads.
For me, the difference in access the two authors had is jarring: whilst Isaacson is able to speak directly to the thoughts of Jobs with the authority that comes from direct interviews, Lashinsky is forced to do with the second hand tales of ex-employees, employees who can’t or wouldn’t speak on the record, and off-cuts from meetings with senior Apple leaders retold through the lens of outsiders.
For Lashinsky, this leads to a book which is padded with a considerable amount of opining on the future fortunes of Apple, the way the company works now and then, and other matters for which direct evidence is not available.
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Having said that though, there is good material here. Some of the stories are truly informative: the emphasis that the company places of packaging design (100s of prototypes in a lab specifically for the purpose) for example, or mechanics of a product-launch, as told by participating partners are all fascinating insights.
But for me, the most interesting thing about this book is the contrast it draws with modern management practice and thinking about how companies should be run.
First and foremost, in something quite jarring for me personally, Inside Apple explains how the company is not an especially nice place to work. It describes a confrontational dog-eat-dog environment. One where winning it all costs is the norm. Where making sure you don’t get beaten up by the boss is the number one thing you have to do every day.
I have spent the latter part of my career trying to create work environments the complete opposite. In this, I think I am rather typical of managers who have valued people and talent and believed that happy people are the gateway to corporate success.
If the way things work at Apple is anything to go by, happiness is not only not a prerequisite, it can have the effect of taking the edge off an organisation altogether.
Practically speaking the stellar performance of the company suggests that modern management practice – concerned as it is with happiness of stakeholders and work life balance – could use an update.
The nub of the book, though rests in a single question: did Apple work because of Steve, or did Apple work because it was Apple? It is a question which, I think, Inside Apple does not answer.
So, should you read Inside Apple?
The answer is yes, if only because there is little else that purports to explain some of how Apple does what it does.
But if you have the stomach for only one book about Apple, then I say wait.
Because, having read Inside Apple, it seems quite a few executives in the company are awaiting their time in the sun. And if that’s the case, it is surely only a matter of time before someone with greater access to the company writes a book with all the details which are only tantelizingly hinted at here.