Chris Deaver, a former HR business partner at Apple, recently talked about how the company had to reform its well-documented culture of secrecy and introduce a certain level of openness to its internal workings in order to create the massively successful AirPods Pro (via Fast Company).
Apple likes to maintain as much secrecy around its product development as possible to preserve the “surprise and delight” for customers. This practice has also seeped into the workplace over time, often to the detriment of talent.
As revolutionary as the launch of the original AirPods was, Deaver and other HR executives at Apple realized that a certain level of openness between teams working on the same product would be needed to enable a degree of co-creation and collaboration that would take product development to the next level.
Deaver created a mini “braintrust” comprised of several HR executives at Apple to study the company’s workplace culture
We discovered “The Camera Braintrust” (as in iPhone camera, or the cameras in any hardware devices), or “CBT,” and applied these key ingredients: a weekly cross-staff transparency session, focusing on a vulnerable or open approach to sharing challenges they were facing. Each leader and team with a voice, each sharing exactly where they were in their development, and what they needed from the other teams. This led to cycles of innovation that had accelerated the camera technology to new heights, making it the gold standard of collaboration.
Deaver and his team applied the same approach adopted by the Camera Braintrust to the teams working on the next iteration of the AirPods by coaching, collaborating with, and influencing key leaders and engineers driving their development.
Regular cross-staff sessions, transparency, and shared voice were all integrated into their workflow, and that resulted in teams working better together. Leaders became more open, connected, and drove higher quality collaboration than ever before, with the approach ultimately leading to the creation of the resounding success that was the noise-cancelling AirPods Pro.
Deaver’s braintrust concluded that sharing was possible even in the context of secrecy. From there, the notion of “braintrust” and openness in the workplace was expanded to the rest of Apple, from R&D to retail strategy.
What emerged was a culture shift to what Deaver called “Different Together,” combining the power of Apple’s historic “Think Different” approach, which highlighted the strength of infinite variety in voices, with the power of doing it all “Together.”
This new era at Apple started with the AirPods Pro and went on to add to the success of the Apple Watch, PowerBeats Pro, MacBook, and later iterations of iPhone, said Deaver. Thanks to this approach, leaders at Apple who were still latched on to old ways shared more freely in circles across functions, by design, rather than avoiding it by default.
Apple is reportedly working on the second-generation AirPods Pro, expected to launch sometime this year with support for Lossless Audio and a charging case with built-in speakers.