Apple University Secrets: De-coding the Algorithm to Your Next Successful Decade - Blog

More smart-phones were produced last year than new borns. Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) the storied company that Steve Jobs founded has redefined the everyday experience of human beings and “made a dent in the universe”. Were there repeatable processes that made massive success more likely? In 2008, Steve Jobs selected former Dean of Yale and Harvard, Joel Podolny, to be the Dean of “Apple University” – the corporate training program to inculcate employees into Apple’s business culture and educate them about its history. As the new year unfolds, we asked: Could some of these techniques be helpful as you or a loved one attempt to gain acceptance to an elite college or win a coveted company position? Discover the algorithm we researched in this fascinating note and in our upcoming webinar.

Algorithms – as defined as a set of processes to predict behavior – are infused within our lives from Black Scholes in finance which ultimately impacts your loan terms to Bin Packing in real estate which selects the order of your next elevator. These processes are key to separate aspirational posters from repeatable outcomes. Prior to any codes being written, whether by techies or HR policy scribes, accessing inspiration and courage are foundational to success. Wanting to go to Harvard because…well… its Harvard vs. believing you are inspired to re-shape an industry via Silicon Valley creates a completely different sets of processes. Ambition starved of processes gets reduced to faint pang of potential…satisfied by the most convenient career.



Apple University teaches employees that they're at the company to be the very best at one specific task. After a minimum threshold of capability, this level of focus requires motivation and engagement.

“Some…may find it surprising that Digital Organizations [like Apple] are so marked by their reliance on uniquely human capacities – motivation, engagement, collaboration, entrepreneurship – to continually advance the digital agenda.” – MIT Center for Digital Business

- Crimson Oak Tip: Make the time to replenish and nourish your spirit. An anchoring ritual such as stating you want to do [insert task] to reach [the overall vision] or “wildly important goal” that is larger than your life.


At Apple University, “the best or nothing” is a foundational module emphasizing the choice we all make: mediocrity or amazement? Do we choose to live an ordinary life or design one for amazement? For instance, if a student were to do they choose a conventional major or seek out faculty to design one for their amazing career to impact family & society?

“The concept of 'average' has failed us in many different aspects of life - most notably in our educational institutions. I can't over-emphasize how useless I was at school. I didn't fit in, and couldn't keep up and was left convinced that I was lazy and dumb. Not seeing any benefits from remaining in education, I left school aged 16. But then something happened: beginning life as entrepreneur, no longer forced to focus of subjects I had no interest in, I turned my attention to things that I could see the relevance in and that I was passionate about. My brain opened up, and so did my world.” – Richard Branson, founder of Virgin

- Crimson Oak Tip: Recognize the choice we have. In consciously choosing “the best or nothing”, you will seek out exposure to excellence and cultivate a willingness to go beyond the bounds of convention. An external focus on the impact your choice may have on others, will embolden the design of your professional or academic career.



How Apple designers decided on just three buttons to have on a TV remote vs the leading competitor’s, Google’s, 80-button remote serves as a case study on collaborative decision-making. After idea to realization, engaging others will be essential to your success and yet expose you to rejection. Similar to selecting which career path to choose or which colleges to focus on, engagement with others – through a defined process - will lead to a more informed decision.

“We [Apple] are the most focused company that I know of or have read of or have any knowledge of. We say no to good ideas every day. We say no to great ideas in order to keep the amount of things we focus on very small in number so that we can put enormous energy behind the ones we do choose.” – Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

- Crimson Oak Tip: Determining a process to engage with others for key decisions will enable you to choose which initiative to focus on. Although you are the captain of your life, engaging your “troops” – family, friends & advisors – will lead to better outcomes.



Undergirding these processes is an interdisciplinary approach that emphasizes communicating the essentials. Communication shapes perception… and perception becomes reality. Apple University’s foundation course, “Communicating at Apple” uses Picasso’s lithographs known as “The Bull” which became simplified iteratively until it came down to a stick figure. As you communicate with peers, family and advisors drilling down to the essence of your vision of your academic or processional goal is essential. For Steve Jobs, he was able to create “reality distortion field”. Behind this communication process that helped to build the most remarkable, some may refer to it as the most human of success factors…faith. Grow & Lead.