What it is: Apple’s main headquarters is nearly complete and looks like a giant circular building.
Construction is nearly completed on Apple’s main campus, which is designed to look like a giant circular building. While the building itself is an interesting shape, it’s also designed for maximum energy efficiency with solar panels and more than 7,000 trees to avoid creating an asphalt wasteland typically found in many office buildings.
While building an unusual shape and including energy efficient measures is a notable step, the real key to the Apple campus will be how it helps employees work together. One huge problem with any large company is that people don’t know who their co-workers might be outside of their own general area. Accounting people tend to only talk with other accountants and programmers rarely talk or see the sales or marketing staff. As a result, the different parts of a company often work independently and sometimes at odds with one another.
If you look at Microsoft, you can see the pitfalls of working in isolation. While one division worked on Windows RT, a second division worked on Windows Phone. Unlike iOS that runs on both the iPhone and iPad, allowing apps to run on both devices, Microsoft designed Windows RT as a completely different operating system from Windows Phone. The end result was that apps from one operating system couldn’t run on the other operating system, and developers had to learn two different sets of tools to write apps for both operating systems. Microsoft shows you can have the smartest people around, but if you manage them wrong, you’ll get lousy results.
That’s why the real success of the Apple campus won’t be its unusual shape or energy efficiency, but how well it helps employees mingle and share ideas with each other. Even a janitor or receptionist can come up with a great idea, so great ideas should be shared. Even better, ideas between different departments need to be shared because the sales and marketing department might hear about problems long before the programmers ever hear of it. By knowing what customers like and want from the sales and marketing department, programmers can create products that customers want. Conversely, by showing the sales and marketing people what they’re working on, programmers can get early feedback on what might be useful in the future.
By adding plenty of trees, windows, open walking areas, and cafes, Apple hopes to increase the chance of people intermingling from different areas. Creating a formal structure to make people meet would likely be pointless, but allowing people from different parts of the company to mingle increases the likelihood that people will bounce ideas off each other. The more ideas shared, the more likely a good idea will actually go somewhere.
The Apple Campus is meant to keep workers happy and improve the chances of people working together. There will likely be unforeseen problems popping up once in a while, but the campus will likely achieve its goal of improving communication between separate groups of workers. There’s still a chance that Apple could create a disastrous product like Windows RT or Microsoft Kin, but you can’t eliminate all failures. You have to accept failure as the cost of getting to success. What you don’t want to do is keep repeating failures time and time again.
The surest way to fail is to not even try. The second surest way to fail is to slavishly follow the leader and not try to innovate anything of your own. The only way to succeed is to risk failure and try to create something that doesn’t exist yet, but which will improve the lives of nearly everyone. That’s not easy to do, but it’s far easier to do with happy employees who can easily share ideas with one another in an informal environment, and that’s what the Apple Campus hopes to do.