In the business and technology fields, people measure success in market share, in profits, and by using various metrics like customer satisfaction (“cust sat,” as Apple CEO Tim Cook has referred to it in public, which strikes me as a rare time when biz jargon has passed through the carefully scripted presentations).
There must be a name for another often-used metric: writing about Apple to draw readers, even (or especially) when there’s no substance to report or when a contrary position is taken just to boost page views. “Apple-trolling” perhaps? The New York Times has a whopper today, published on page 1: Simplifying the Bull: How Picasso Helps to Teach Apple’s Style by Brian X. Chen.
The article is about Apple University, the program Steve Jobs set up before he passed away to collect, refine, and teach the business practices the company has successfully employed since Jobs’s return to the company. Apple is secretive about it, because Apple is secretive about everything, but also because it’s no doubt a trove of competitive information that Apple wouldn’t want other companies to use against it.
What do we learn about this walled fortress? Naturally, no one at Apple would speak about it, but Chen does find three anonymous sources that are willing to share some of their observations. Such as:
- The program has the same level of polish and presentation that we see in its products, PR, and stores.
The toilet paper is “really nice.” (Really, this is the first quote.)
Classes cover Apple history, communicating between departments, and adapting to Apple corporate culture.
Apple simplifies to find the core aspects of products.
It’s a little bit of detail, but nothing mind-blowing. Or rather, it’s exactly the type of information other companies offer (or should offer), scaled up for an entity as large and successful as Apple.
I’m not trying to bash Chen, since getting information out of Apple is extremely difficult. Instead, I object to the fact that this sounds like a story that had potential, didn’t really pan out with the level of detail that would have made it truly interesting, and the Times not only ran it anyway, but is splashing it like an important scoop. On the front page.
It doesn’t help that some of the ol’ Apple religion language is still there (emphasis mine): “Although many companies have such internal programs, sometimes referred to as indoctrination, Apple’s version is a topic of speculation and fascination in the tech world.”
What’s the point of that? It’s a wolf whistle to bring up in the minds of business folks every whispered idea that Apple employees are brainwashed or cult members or follow blindly the deity Jobs. I’m actually surprised that more of it doesn’t show up in the article; maybe an editor weighed in? Maybe Apple’s success is finally putting that old idea to bed?
I also must point out this late-night tweet by NYT writer Nick Bilton, which makes me wonder if Nick was up too late or just actively trolling for traffic:
— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) August 11, 2014
I suspect it’s the latter, because Bilton, Chen, and everyone at the New York Times knows that an article about Apple—any article, especially one with “scoops”—will juice traffic, regardless of the actual substance of the piece. (A Google search on “Apple University” this morning brought up a page full of articles at other outlets regurgitating and pointing to the Times’ article.) Even the New York Times isn’t above Apple-trolling for traffic.
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