Most Companies Can't Afford to Be as Secretive as Apple


People often mention Apple in the same breath as Google. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, is famously an Apple board member, which recently attracted the unwanted attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Both companies have largely managed to maintain their high stock valuations and consistently show up on lists of the world's most revered brands.


But they take a hugely different approach to product development and other innovation-driven activities. Google has often seemed pretty loosey-goosey in that respect and recently retooled its Google Labs site to garner more public input on proposed products and services. In that sense, Google is joining the collaboration crowd. More open, more transparent. As I wrote recently in a post about some companies' struggles with a collaborative culture:


The push toward collaboration is happening all around us, including (for must of us) at work. It's no longer about producing a "perfect" business report or spreadsheet or chart. (As if there is any such thing.) It's about wikis and instant messaging and Sharepoint and other tools that help us collaborate with our coworkers -- and increasingly, with customers, suppliers and others.

At Apple, not so much. As noted in a New York Times story, Apple is steeped in a culture of secrecy. The company employs special security doors, cameras, codes to enter offices and no doubt a sophisticated system to manage it all. On his Church of the Customer Blog, Ben McConnell wonders if some of Apple's security costs aren't passed along to the customer. No doubt. And he makes the case that, for most companies, "a culture based on transparency, truth and openness are a lot easier, and less expensive, to manage."


Of course, the secrecy is also part of Apple's marketing mojo. The company garners a ridiculous amount of press coverage, simply based on folks analyzing the latest Apple rumors. You know, is Apple buying Twitter? When will there be more iPhones? When can I get a cheaper one? Etc.