For the second time in three months a book is set to appear that endeavors to explain the “magic” and mystery of Apple. On Wednesday, Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired — and Secretive — Company Really Works, by Fortune reporter Adam Lashinsky, will be released. I will get to my full review in a moment, but here’s a spoiler alert: You should read this.
Where Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography is a deep look into the person who founded Apple, why he did it and how he found success, Inside Apple has, in a way, a much narrower focus. It examines what sets this company apart as a business, with a special focus on the period at Apple since Jobs’ return, in 1997.
Lashinsky’s book reads like it was written by someone who is deeply sourced in Silicon Valley and who, in fact, has been covering Apple for over a decade. He has had firsthand experience watching Apple’s rebirth, and he has interviewed many current and former Apple employees about their work and experience with Jobs. And this can’t be stressed enough: Lashinsky did this all without any cooperation from Apple, Jobs or current Apple CEO Tim Cook.
The Isaacson biography, on the other hand, is — as was intended — a look at Jobs himself with his full cooperation. It means that the detailed history of the computer industry and Apple we read are through Jobs’ Lennon-style lenses.
This is not to dismiss Isaacson’s work: His book provides an interesting view into the very private Jobs’ personality, his personal life and his contributions to the world. But Inside Apple is far more insightful about the question so many of us — from the curious to students of business — have: why Apple is so different from any other successful, large company on the planet.
Lashinsky illustrates this by reporting on the startup mentality Jobs instilled, the way the executive team functions, how marketing and public relations create and maintain the brand, the way the caste system inside the company enables its “magic,” and especially the importance of jarring secrecy and top-down control of information play.
Lashinsky also offers us his analysis on the perils Apple faces without Jobs. It’s a topic you can read anywhere, but here, again, he has a closer view than many. He looks at the shortcomings of the way Jobs, the entrepreneur-in-chief, kept all fellow entrepreneurs out of his inner circle of executives and what that will mean for the company’s future success. He also examines how Cook as CEO may mix things up. From being a former IBMer and his first moves elevating certain executives to establishing company-wide philanthropy and strong hints he won’t hoard cash they way Jobs did, the new chief executive clearly has his own ideas about the company.
This book’s real strength — besides lots of insight from people who knew and worked with Jobs, Cook and the rest of the executive team — is the way it frames different scenarios that could result from Apple sans Jobs. Here is how he captures the tension for Apple’s future, in my favorite quote that sums it all up:
Over the next fifteen years or so, the business world will get to watch the drama of whether Apple truly has found a way to cheat the hangman’s noose or if the period between 1997 and 2012 or so was a golden aberration driven by one extraordinary individual the likes of which we’ll never see again. If the former is true, then Apple will defy almost all of business history.
You get the feeling when reading this that people inside the company will be just as keen to pick up a copy as those of us on the outside.