Apple Management Training: Learn to Think Like Steve

Susan Hall

In a post about succession planning in 2008, our Rob Enderle wrote:

For a lot of us, our impact on the world has more to do with our skills and knowledge than anything else. Writers, actors and others that build things or create art have that as a legacy, but most of us don't do that.

He also wrote about a company called Virsona that uses artificial intelligence to allow future generations to chat with you after you're gone. (I'm trying to find out whether this company is still in business.)


Rob was writing about succession planning - or lack of - at Apple. With Steve Jobs' health issues, that continues to be a hot topic. The lack of public disclosure about a succession plan, however, doesn't mean there is none. But it leaves pundits like Rob speculating, as he recently did, that Apple will buy another company to get a successor.


Actually, there seems to be some succession planning in the form of Apple University. It was first mentioned in 2008, but little heard from since. ElectricPig describes it this way:

Essentially, Apple University seems to be based on the principle WWSD? (What Would Steve Do?).

Coursekit Blog mentions a new Fortune article, "Inside Apple," that's $5 on its iPad app, but I haven't found a link to info on that. Fortune writer Adam Lashinsky is quoted saying of the initiative by Joel Podolny, Apple HR chief and former dean of the Yale School of Management:

... At Jobs' instruction, Podolny hired a team of business professors, including the renowned Harvard veteran and Andy Grove biographer Richard Tedlow. This band of eggheads is writing a series of internal case studies about significant decisions in Apple's recent history. It's exactly the sort of thing the major business schools do, except Apple's case studies are for an Apple-only audience The goal is to expose the next layer of management to the executive team's thought process Jobs is ensuring that his teachings are being collected, curated and preserved so that future generations of Apple's leaders can consult and interpret them.

At Asymco, writer Horace Dediu says:

The idea that Apple is trying to capture its institutional processes and knowledge is very compelling. Few companies have self-knowledge. Fewer still try to codify it and teach it to new generations of leaders (Disney, McDonald's and Toyota have in-house training programs, but they are mostly aimed at new hires).
For those who don't bother, the consequences are a more rapid descent into disruption. I've experienced the consequences of the failure to remember decision processes. Knowledge about decisions disappears once the decision maker moves on, leaving a new generation to figure out the causes of success (and failure) all over again.

An interesting comment string follows, including one that asks whether the project can really be working if it's taking so long. Another points to Google's approach, which was to use data mining to develop training for managers.


Jobs also is cooperating with biographer Walter Isaacson on a book due out in early 2012.


What do you think of this approach to management training? Does is make sense to document the thought processes of one man or is Jobs just full of himself?

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