How Apple went beyond its culture of secrecy to create the AirPods Pro

While the AirPods Pro took several years of development before their 2019 launch, Apple was pushed by a small team of human resources managers to adopt a more transparent and less siled work atmosphere for employees, breaking with the culture top-secret, siled work that leads to most of the company’s products.

A new way to work at Apple

The revelation comes from an article on Fast Company by Chris Deaver, a former Apple HR manager who worked at the company from 2015 to 2019. In the long post, Deaver describes, as is known, the strict culture of Apple. ‘Apple on Product Secrecy and Confidentiality. Employees working on devices like Mac or iPad have no insight into what teams working on iPhone or other products are doing, which creates a great sense of exclusion for some employees. Even within a product team, it is rare for employees to see the big picture.

This culture of Apple secrecy and information containment has often left employees working across different products and disciplines in uncomfortable dilemmas, not knowing who to talk to and who to hide secrets from for fear of punishment. legal or professional. “How do I operate like this? If I can only share information with certain people, how do I know who and when? I don’t want to end up fired or in jail,” Deaver quotes an employee as saying during his time in the company.

Beyond personal dilemmas, the culture of secrecy has also caused friction between teams across the company. Deaver describes his role in the human resources department as having to deal with internal conflicts, which he says often stemmed from complaints from “that team that didn’t share.”

Deaver, alongside close business friend Ian Clawson, built a small team of HR experts and partners to brainstorm a new, more transparent way for Apple teams to work that would result in less friction during product development. Deaver said he was inspired by his experience watching the development of the original AirPods, which reportedly left staff exhausted and frustrated.

Teams were innovating for months in silos only to finally converge in the eleventh hour before launch, finding themselves in daily five- or six-hour meetings, causing enormous friction and exhaustion. People were frustrated. They had to leave or “never work with that person again.”

How could Apple have avoided the internal turmoil we faced when developing the AirPods? How do cultures smoke the form they smoke? These questions and the inspired sessions with Ian led me to form a mini braintrust at Apple. As a small group of HR partners, we began to explore these questions by looking at the culture of Apple.

airpods pro blue header

the reflection of this team ultimately led Apple to embrace a more transparent and collaborative work culture for AirPods Pro. Instead of separate groups working in silos, on the same but unable to communicate or work together, Apple opted for an open and fluid workflow for the AirPods Pro. A more “normal” approach in short.

Teams converged with leaders who became more open, more connected, and fostered higher quality collaboration than ever before. We’ve spent time coaching, directing and influencing the key executives and engineers driving the next frontier of AirPods. What emerged was a braintrust that, through regular sessions, openness, and connection, resulted in high-performance, noise-canceling AirPods Pro. It was a testament to innovation, but also to the power of sharing. Yes, sharing could be done in the context of secrecy.

The new crop has been dubbed internally “Different Together,” a pun on Apple’s iconic “Think Different” campaign. Part of Apple’s priority in maintaining secrecy is preventing leaks and rumors about what the company is working on.

What will be the next stage of the culture of Apple? Who knows ? But the company is heading towards a future where it is much better prepared to innovate with co-creative braintrusting teams, even in challenging environments like distributed workforces brought about by COVID-19. Apple can now continue to innovate with collective confidence, because “Different Together” now means Apple’s culture is whole. Looking back, during that time at Apple (which we dubbed as our “beta test” to crack the code of culture transformation), we believed that co-creation could be applied to any field. Today, we zoomed out to ask the following questions: How can a company transform its culture (especially if a lot of things are already working)? How do we get rid of the cultural norms that prevent them from shaping the future at the higher level?

As Deaver attempts to prove, Apple can be both covert and collaborative, to pull off a success story like the AirPods Pro. It is however true that the leaks were quite numerous on the subject, we had published the design of the headphones before their release. Not sure that the future mixed reality headset or the Apple Car are housed in the same boat.

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