How Apple is Organised for Innovation | HBR Nov-Dec 2020

Apple’s approach to leadership is a masterclass in organisational design.

And this article is a must-read for anyone who wants to build organisations that grow by design.

Here are a few of the most memorable ideas.

Memorable quotes

Believing that conventional management had stifled innovation, Jobs, in his first year returning as CEO, laid off the general managers of all the business units (in a single day), put the entire company under one P&L, and combined the disparate functional departments of the business units into one functional organization.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

[F]unctional structure may benefit companies facing tremendous technological change and industry upheaval.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

Its fundamental belief is that those with the most expertise and experience in a domain should have decision rights for that domain.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

[Apple] must rely on the judgment and intuition of people with deep knowledge of the technologies responsible for disruption. Long before it can get market feedback and solid market forecasts, the company must make bets about which technologies and designs are likely to succeed in smartphones, computers, and so on. Relying on technical experts rather than general managers increases the odds that those bets will pay off.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

It’s easier to get the balance right between an attention to costs and the value added to the user experience when the leaders making decisions are those with deep expertise in their areas rather than general managers being held accountable primarily for meeting numerical targets.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

Apple’s managers at every level, […] possess three key leadership characteristics: deep expertise that allows them to meaningfully engage in all the work being done within their individual functions; immersion in the details of those functions; and a willingness to collaboratively debate other functions during collective decision-making.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

[W]orld-class talent wants to work for and with other world-class talent in a specialty.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

You know who the best managers are? They are the great individual contributors who never, ever want to be a manager but decide they have to be…because no one else is going to…do as good a job.”

Steve jobs

Leaders should know the details of their organization three levels down,” because that is essential for speedy and effective cross-functional decision-making at the highest levels.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

Together [experts learnign from other experts], all can strive to do the best work of their lives in their chosen area.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

[D]fficulty was not an acceptable excuse for failing to deliver what would clearly be a superior user experience.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

Apple’s collaborative debate involves people from various functions who disagree, push back, promote or reject ideas, and build on one another’s ideas to come up with the best solutions. It requires open-mindedness from senior leaders. It also requires those leaders to inspire, prod, or influence colleagues in other areas to contribute toward achieving their goals.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen

You’re accountable for making the project succeed even though you don’t control all the other teams. This process can be messy yet produce great results.

Joel M. Podolny and Morten T. Hansen