One of the hallmarks of Steve Jobs management policies at Apple was secrecy. Products were never discussed prior to launch. The focus on secrecy was so intense that the company even had ongoing fake programs to fool employees as to what might be introduced. Leaking company secrets meant immediate termination.
In my view, Apple succeeded under Jobs in spite of, not because of, his obsession with secrecy. The flow of exciting new products that Jobs could unveil in is keynotes was sufficient to keep customers happy and employees satisfied despite the KGB atmosphere surrounding their development. But as the backlog of innovation slows, Apple should open the door. Note that Elon Musk pursues a strategy that is 180 degrees opposite to that of Jobs. He introduces products years before they are ready to ship, builds hype, and uses customer and critic feedback to address issues that arise. Apple should do the same. Not only would that make customers feel closer to the company, but employees could share ideas openly and talk proudly about what they were working on, fostering collaboration and innovation.
This does not mean that every detail should be released, so as to not allow copies to be made too quickly, only the concepts. For instance, if Apple is indeed working on a car – say so. Does Apple really hope to have a keynote and roll out a new automobile in 2020 with no customer feedback? That would be nutty.
What about failures you might ask. If the company preannounces a product and then the products bombs isn’t that a disaster? No. Remember Google glass and the Amazon phone? Bombs to be sure but they hardly slowed the companies. As Linus Pauling once said when asked how he came up with such great ideas he observed, I come up with 10 times that many ideas and throw away the 90% that are bad. Apples customers and critics could help the company throw away those aspects of its new ideas that are bad. Google’s customers did exactly that.
In short, it is time to forget the secrecy. Innovation requires open exchange. Freedom of expression also makes for a much more enjoyable work environment that promotes creative thinking. And there is nothing Apple needs more now than creative thinking and innovation.