Simplifying the Bull: How Picasso Helps to Teach Apple’s Style

I am reproducing an article from New York Times. Three Apple employees spoke to The New York Times about the company’s secretive internal training program, revealing some of the lessons the tech firm tries to impart.

In a class called “What Makes Apple, Apple,” an instructor shows Apple employees a slide of a 78-button remote control for Google TV. He then shows an Apple TV remote, which has just three buttons.

That story, which illustrates Apple’s strive towards simplicity, is part of a rare look inside the company’s secretive training program, known as Apple University, written Monday by The New York Times. Three Apple employees who have taken classes described elements of the program to the publication, agreeing to speak about it anonymously.

Apple declined to provide the Times with details about the program or make instructors — some hailing from Harvard, Yale, and MIT — available for interview. The Times noted that no pictures of the classes have come out publicly. An Apple representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from CNET.

Apple University was established in 2008 by late co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, who hired Joel Podolny, then the dean of Yale School of Management, to head up the new program. The training program followed a similar program for animation studio Pixar, another company Jobs co-founded, called Pixar University. Both are among a handful of company training programs, such as McDonald’s Hamburger University.

Apple University could take on new significance in helping maintain Jobs’ approach to simplifying products, even as the company grows. The program could also be a useful tool in integrating the hundreds of new employees the company took on when it closed its $3 billion acquisition of headphones company Beats this month, it’s biggest deal ever.

The Times story describes one class, “Communicating at Apple,” in which the instructor shows 11 pictures from Picasso’s “The Bull.” Each progressive slide in the series strips away details of the bull until just a stick figure remains.

“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,” one person who took the course recalled to the Times.

The concept of simplification is present throughout the company, from Jobs’ basic attire to its spartan retail stores to its devices — with the iPhone and iPad stripping away the keyboard and mouse for one flat touch screen and circular home button.

The classes are taught on Apple’s campus in well-lit stadium-seating rooms built in a trapezoid shape, the Times reported. Some courses teach employees about business decisions the company took, such as the choice to make the iPod and iTunes compatible on Windows. That issue was hotly debated issue among executives, with Jobs repellent to the idea of sharing Apple technology with Windows. However, the decision eventually led to the iPod’s rapid growth and paved the way for the iPhone’s success.

Apple’s philosophy of simplicity, now under CEO Tim Cook, hasn’t changed much since Jobs’ death in 2011, as evidenced by the few drastic changes in the company’s products. Apple University may have lent a steadying hand to the corporate culture.

Check out my earlier article on the topic of “cloning” Steve Jobs.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Training

Supermen & Superwomen of the Training Department

The training department is always under siege. In good times, there is a huge workload. In bad times, there is a huge workload! The training department is also possibly the most under rated department in a typical enterprise (This is an emotional outburst and not based on data as you can see from the title of this post!). Any ways, I created a poster that shows how these supermen and superwomen of the training department are battling their foes and surviving in spite of the odds. Thank You.

Poster that depicts the challenges faced by the training department.

Supermen and Superwomen of the Training Department


Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Leadership, Training

The Digital Workplace – Rethinking Enterprise Learning and Development

There is a transformation underway that is changing the business landscape. The concept of “Digital Enterprise” is gaining traction. Enterprises are challenging the traditional ways of doing business and interacting with customers. They have no option. If they don’t reinvent their business, a startup or a competitor will eventually eat their lunch. Take the case of RadioShack. They have threatened to change their game but have not executed on their plans. The rest (along with RadioShack) is history or will soon become history.

Digital Enterprise is not just about gaining expertise in using social media to reach customers / employees, or the ability to leverage Big Data or mobile devices for gaining efficiency and competitive advantage. In fact, Digital Enterprise is not just a CIO problem but a challenge for the entire leadership and employees to change their work culture and mindset.

Enterprise Learning & Development teams now face a new challenge. Its no longer adequate to just implement cloud based LMS or collaboration portal or build more online courses, mobile apps or deliver more classroom training. The real challenge is enabling a “Digital Workplace” for the employee. This calls for a fundamental shift in assumptions and the way Enterprise Learning & Development teams interact with the rest of the organization, including IT teams.

According to NetStrategy JMC, the “Digital Workplace” has three key components – Capabilities, Enablers and Mindset. I have modified their approach to make it relevant for Learning and Development as depicted in the images below.




In summary, Digital Workplace is all about setting the agenda to enable a Digital Enterprise. Enterprise Learning Departments can seize this opportunity to gain prominence within the enterprise by transforming themselves to be more market driven. This I believe is important to stay relevant in the Digital World.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Big Data, Cloud Computing, Crowdsourcing, Knowledge Management, Learning, LMS, Mobile Learning, Smartphones, Social Collaboration, Social Learning, Training

How Big is the Global Mobile Data Deluge?

Check out this infographics from Cisco to illustrate the huge growth in mobile data in the coming years. Remember, enterprises are a reflection of the consumer markets (eventually)!

Global Mobile Data Forecast

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Mobile Learning

The Anatomy of a Failed eLearning Project

I put together a poster that distills all the key causes and symptoms of a failed eLearning project. Here you go…

Poster that depicts symptoms and causes for a failed eLearning project.

Symptoms and Causes that point to a failed eLearning project.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: , , , , ,
Posted in eLearning

Lessons for Training Departments from the German Soccer Team

Context is still the king and after yesterday’s FIFA World Cup finals, this post was inevitable! With some inspiration from this article, I came up with my version!

So what we can the Enterprise Training Department learn from the German Soccer team?

2014 German Soccer Team Holding the FIFA World Cup

1. Never give up. The Germans never quit. They fight until the very last second of the match and never give up. They never quit, they fight one battle after another, one match after another. The thought of losing doesn’t even exist in their minds.

The biggest challenge training departments face is being the first one on the chopping block when the management team decides to downsize. There is a perennial battle to gain attention and budgets. Training departments should themselves be convinced about the importance of training in meeting business objectives and carry this message of conviction to the management team. Gather hard data on the impact of training on business and never stop projecting your story.

2. Learn from the competition. In 1998, France became soccer world champions by beating Brazil with 2-0. Both goals were scored by Zinedine Zidane, an Algerian immigrant and one of the best soccer players in history. Germany fielded a multicultural team in the 2002 World Cup that included players from Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey and Africa. They reached the final. Germany learned from the competition the value of players with a foreign background.

Look at how marketing departments project their contribution to the business. Obviously they have an inherent advantage in the fact that they have “marketing” skills. Training departments need marketing skills backed by an ability to bring out data on business impact from training. Packaging training programs and its impact on business is a must. Ever considered hiring people with marketing background for the training department? Customer Education teams are starting to get better at this game.

3. Be flexible. Prior to the start of the World Cup the German media called Joachim Löw “undetermined” and “lost” because he changed the playing formation of his squad countless times before picking the final 23 players who went with him to Brazil. He kept changing the tactics and adjusting the starting eleven. He moved from one formation to another during the World Cup. His approach beat Brazil with 7-1.

Sometimes, we are comfortable doing what we know best. But this strategy can backfire. Flexibility is a key requirement for the training department as well. Employees are changing (look at the generational shift), how employees and customers access information and knowledge are changing, newer tools are flooding the market. Need I say more?

4. Never let go of the goal. In the German soccer federation building hangs a photo of the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio De Janeiro where the final match will take place next Sunday. The players, managers and staff at the federation all know exactly where they are heading and what their goal is. They kept visualizing how they would get there, and nowhere else.

Training departments should know what business challenge they are trying to address before they organize a training program. Measuring ROI should be a mandatory process  (yes, even for compliance training). The training department should have the final outcome in mind – say, reduction in support calls, faster deal closure, increased productivity, to name a few, and explore all options to get the job done.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in Learning, Training

Gamification is dead, long live Gamification!

Reports about the death of gamification have been greatly exaggerated (I am sorry Mark Twain)!

I recently stumbled on an article from Fortune titled “Looks like that whole gamification thing is over“. But very quickly, I realized that the title is misleading as the article talks about several successful implementations of gamification in addition to failures.

A good content marketing strategy starts with an attention grabbing headline. But this may cause collateral damage especially when coming from a reputed source. Our short attention spans means that most of us don’t bother to read the article and jump to conclusions based on the headlines!

Like any project, gamification projects should be grounded on measurable objectives and not because it is cool to implement. Some questions to ask before plunging into a gamification project includes:

1. Get your objectives ironed out up front. Know what battle you want to fight and then choose the right weapons. Is gamification even the right approach to meet your objectives?

2. Gamification is the right objective only if it helps the participants meet their individual objectives or tasks in addition to meeting strategic organization objectives. Otherwise, it’s a burden and something that needs to be “enforced”.

3. Clearly articulate what the end result will look like and what are the way points that will tell you if you are moving in the right direction with your gamification project.

4. Do you have the strategy in place to engage different types of participants? You need cheerleaders, early adopters, and experts. You will also have to convince skeptics and laggards to come on board.

5. Do you have the money needed to implement offline and online gamification platforms? An awareness about the various approaches to implementing gamification and the various tools available in the marketplace to get the job done is critical.

Srinivas Krishnaswamy

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Game based Learning, Gamification

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 618 other followers

%d bloggers like this: