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Apple’s ‘Secret’ Recipe for Success: Tech Giant Is Like the CIA, Lashinsky Says

Aaron Task
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The power of Apple's business model was on full display this week, when the company reported astonishingly strong fiscal first-quarter results. The company's shares surged on Wednesday, bringing Apple's market cap to over $416 billion, just a hair below ExxonMobil's as the world's most valuable company. (See: STAY STOKED APPLE FANS: This Should Be One Heck Of A Year!)

In his new book, Inside Apple, Fortune's Adam Lashinsky delves far beyond one quarter and seeks to understand what makes Apple so successful, and so unique.

His conclusion: "Think Different" isn't just a marketing slogan.

"They do things exactly the opposite from the way most companies do business and, indeed, the way business is taught in business school," Lashinsky says.

For example, while most Fortune 500 firms believe senior managers should be capable of performing multiple functions within an organization, Apple "values expertise," he says.

Similarly, while most companies focus on employee development and "upward mobility" within a firm, Lashinsky notes Apple's attitude is: "If you're really good at this, keep doing it."

Apple's famed design chief Jonathan Ive is a great example of how Apple does things different. Instead of grooming Ive to be Apple's next CEO — as some outsiders wrongly speculated in recent years — Apple let Ive do what he does best: Focus on design which, Lashinsky reports, is what he wants to do above all else.

Another way Apple is different — very different — is that while most companies value transparency and cooperation, Apple is opaque and keeps secrets, including from its own employees.

"It's not an exaggeration to compare [Apple] to the CIA or some other intelligence agency," Lashinsky says. "They believe everything that happens inside is a secret and that pertains not just to…outsiders but also internally. They don't share their secrets [and] you're expected to mind your own business."

This culture of secrecy may be off-putting to some, but Lashinsky speculates it helps limit the politicking and infighting that sometimes corrupts big companies. If you're not aware of what's going on in other departments -- or even within your department -- you're more inclined to focus on the task you've been assigned, he speculates; furthermore, intense dedication to the task at hand — even seemingly 'simple' issues such as the design of the boxes for Apple products — is also a big part of the Apple culture, and the lack of information about goings on elsewhere helps employees stayed focused.

In addition, Apple is organized along functional lines rather than product lines, meaning there is just one department for marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing, etc., instead of redundant department around different product lines as is common elsewhere. This too helps limit the creation of little fiefdoms and the "tiny kings" that often accompanying them.

As with almost everything at Apple, the firm's corporate culture flows from its co-founder Steve Jobs. A big question for Apple is whether the values Jobs instilled at the company will prevail after his passing. Lashinsky believes the culture is so deeply ingrained in new CEO Tim Cook and other Apple employees that it's destined to last for the foreseeable future, at least.

So far so (very) good, judging by the company's first full quarter since Jobs' death.

See also: Apple Reports Record Quarter: But Should the Company Heed Obama's Call to Bring Jobs Home?

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com.

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