Out of all the tributes to the late, great technological master Steve Jobs, there wasn’t important notice about a secret, long-rumoured Apple University project. In an Apple Insider article on October 6, it was said Steve Jobs was planning way with not only new generation Apple products, but also an educational institution where his method of thought and management could be taught. (See Resources) Jobs even personally picked a dean at Yale University’s School of Management to train future Apple employees.
It appears it’s all about to become a reality in what might seem like a desperate attempt to keep a brilliant through-line of thought going at Apple.
The idea of brilliant thought of a true American original being easily teachable to others is still debatable. It shouldn’t necessarily be discounted.
The only thing possibly holding it back is if you’ve happened to have a long career as an executive. Examples of the previous sentence are out there, numerous, and seem to repeat.
It’s said Steve Jobs took his model of training others to think like him from Hewlett-Packard. There, a collective executive process of more focused thinking on what’s truly important was once a paramount business ethos. It was also promptly ignored when new executives eventually ran the company, leading to its recent downfall.
Going back decades earlier, you could see the same business attitude formulated by Walt Disney. Reams of books have been written since Walt Disney’s death in 1966 that attempt to show the Disney thought process in running a company. It sounds a little familiar when you hear about the focus on what’s important while the CEO wields a perfectionist axe.
If you have to find anybody else prior in similarity to Steve Jobs’ line of thinking, it’s unequivocally Walt Disney. Few to any CEO’s of major companies possessed that line of thinking before Steve Jobs or even Hewlett-Packard. Unusually, no one CEO pushed their employees to the ultimate extremes to create things that changed the world.
As with Disney, Jobs was the idea man who pushed his team to creative heights that they couldn’t have done alone. It was an enchanted power of suggestion igniting a creative spark that metaphorically pumped high-quality gasoline into an Aston Martin. Moreover, it’s the kind of cerebral process that you can’t readily pin down.
And that brings the problem of whether Jobs’ line of thinking inspired by Disney can be taught. The principles of perfectionism and focus are easy to commit to in the abstract on a working team. An Apple University will have to go above and beyond to re-create even half of Steve Jobs’ deep and practical thoughts.
How you transfer brilliant thought to others appears to be the most successful when given strictly to the employees who do the real work.
It’s no secret the most excellent example of how Walt Disney transferred his method of business thought was through micromanagement. Of course, the idea of a micromanager who doesn’t allow employee autonomy has become unpopular in more recent years. Then again, there’s such a concept as temporary micromanagement where a thought concept is imparted in the short term, then put on autopilot by employees.
Walt Disney’s micromanagement style might have continued had he lived into his elder years. After his death, though, employees in the Disney studio managed to take what they learned and apply it somewhat skillfully in the film department. Some magic ingredients were lost, namely, in small changes, Walt Disney himself would request to make an animated or live-action movie great. Disney’s son-in-law and CEO successor, Ron Miller, understood his father-in-law’s thought process reasonably well and imparted it the best he could in the company through 1984. However, the critical aspect missing was evolving with the times without losing core principles.
Eventually, the mid-1980’s usurpation of Disney by Michael Eisner and company led to a more successful path, despite it being a blurry version of the old Disney way. By the late ’90s, one critical film component of the original Disney way started to fade: A well-written screenplay.
Ironic it is that Steve Jobs was quietly and indirectly bringing this back to the fore at the same time at Pixar.
With this connection, you can use the MacGuffin of a good screenplay to find the analogic way into what happens next at Apple.
All of this starts with the executives who seem to prove too many times they want to go their way than with something that once worked well. Nonetheless, the first people who should receive the nascent Apple University degree are Apple’s execs. They stand a better chance of adhering to what’s taught due to Steve Jobs’ influence being fresh in their memories. Employees at Apple will always keep Jobs’ thinking in their hearts, just like the classic animators did at Disney in the ensuing years after their leader’s death.
Or, they could cancel one another out if new Apple execs forget what they learned over a decade.
The techniques taught at Apple University will have to include the subtle details, much like the essential elements of a screenplay. Future generation iPods, iPhones, iMacs, Macbooks, iPads, and future “I’s” need the vital elements that tap squarely into a user’s heart of needs and desires. And you can include a few other non-teachable components extracted from the subconscious that only the very few can conjure. It’s a place that only gets tapped with those who meditate and carefully study the world.
If the screenplay of Apple’s future is still in the first draft, perhaps the talented writers of its future genuinely have the pulse of the world at their fingertips. It’d be the ultimate tribute to Steve Jobs who unofficially and unceremoniously made the concept of the story in (computer) animated films at the top of its game again.