Apple has a well-known reputation for stonewalling the media about new developments at the company. For instance, when reporters asked founder and current company head Steve Jobs in 2004 about rumors circulating that Apple would add video functionality to iPods, he scoffed and made jokes about how he wanted the music player to make toast, as well. Yet, just one year later, iPods with video were released.
The latest instance of the company’s propensity for secrecy and obfuscation has centered on its new corporate learning function, Apple University. Joel Podolny, the former dean of Yale University’s School of Management, was tapped as the vice president and dean of the new organization, but not much is known about it beyond that. Since its announcement in late October, Apple has been quiet on the subject of what its university will do exactly and how it will function.
In spite of this silence, we can venture a few educated guesses about what characteristics this new institution will have:
1. It will be holistic. Podolny, who was recently named one of “10 new gurus you should know” by Fortune magazine, restructured the curricula at the Yale School of Management. According to that short profile, he replaced traditional, straightforward courses on subjects such as finance with classes that explored broad business concepts such as the customer and the investor. His selection by Apple suggests the company wants a similar approach for its university
2. It will be creative. In addition to Apple, Jobs was the head of Pixar — the animation studio behind movies such as “Finding Nemo” and “Cars” — for several years. The corporate university of that company, which was established in 2003, during his tenure, included classes ranging from screenwriting to improv acting. The point of these offerings was to push the company’s workforce to experiment with new ideas. There’s no reason why this approach wouldn’t work at Apple University, especially given the company’s existing innovative and creative qualities.
3. It will go beyond “learning.” In addition to creativity, Pixar University emphasized using learning exercises to improve teamwork and morale to help the company compete against larger and better-funded studios. Now, Apple certainly isn’t a small player in the technology space, but the organization’s leaders, including Podolny, probably are sophisticated enough to understand that learning experiences can result in much more than just knowledge transfer. Thus, Apple University likely will be used as a means to enhance other parts of the talent suite, such as retention and performance.
One more thing: Apple University probably will use podcasting and videocasting for content delivery. Just a hunch. We’ll keep you posted as we find out more.