Apple apparently thinks it can compare itself to Picasso.
At least, that is what three Apple employees taking up courses at Apple University, the in-house training program for employees first put up in 2008 by Steve Jobs and former dean of the Yale School of Management Joel Podolny to educate employees about the company's culture and business, told Brian X. Chen of The New York Times in a lengthy profile about the secretive training program. Others simply call it indoctrination.
Little has been reported of Apple University, with not even a picture of the trapezoid-shaped classrooms with raised seating and luxury toilet paper, which the employees said were "as thoughtfully planned as Apple products," surfacing as leaks on the Internet. However, with three students agreeing to talk on condition of anonymity, we now have a more in-depth view of what goes on behind the walls bordering Apple from the rest of the world.
Instructors are brought in from universities like Harvard, Yale and University of California, Berkeley and Stanford to create and teach courses full-time at Apple University. Employees are encouraged, not required, to enroll in classes, but it is generally not difficult to get students to enroll. Occasionally, instructors travel overseas to teach courses in Apple's facilities abroad. Courses range from anything that has to do with the company, such as courses that center on Apple's previous business decisions and courses designed specifically for employees working on Beats.
So what does Picasso have anything to do about this?
The sources said Apple's employees are taught right from the very start that Apple is all about simplicity in design. In a course called "Communicating at Apple," instructor Randy Nelson showed students a slide of Pablo Picasso's "The Bull," a series of 11 lithographs that shows a deconstruction of a bull until it ends up with nothing but clear, simple lines that still manage to look like a bull. Nelson likens the design of Apple products to this work of art.
"You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do," said one of the students.
In another class also taught by Nelson, he showed another slide comparing Apple TV's remote control with that of Google TV. While Apple's remote control is a sleek slab of metal with only three buttons on it - one to play, one to pause and one to select, Google's remote control has 78 buttons on it.
Nelson explained Apple's designers came up with the remote after cutting out everything that wasn't needed, while Google's was so cluttered because the engineers working on the project "all got what they wanted." The students, however, did not mention that using an Apple TV remote requires the use of a second device, such as an iPhone or iPad, to type in the title of a movie or an actor's name, which is not very simple at all.
Another course, titled "The Best Things," aims to teach Apple employees to strive to have the best things that allow them to give the best they can in their work. Among others, the best things for Apple include talented peers and high-quality materials.
Apple University is set to play an even bigger role in maintaining the culture that Jobs began to instill in Apple's employees as the company continues to grow and expand its workforce. Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin says keeping the culture alive gets more challenging the more people Apple hires.
"When you do the case studies on Apple decades from now, the one thing that will keep coming out is this unique culture where people there believe they're making the best products that change people's lives," says Bajarin. "That's all cultural stuff they're trying to ingrain. That becomes very difficult the bigger you get."