Why Apple University Has a Course on Communicating Clearly

Before he died, Steve Jobs launched an “Apple University” program to keep the culture of the company strong. Employees can sign up for various courses, most of which are completely shrouded in secrecy. Recently, the New York Times got 3 Apple employees to speak anonymously about the experience.

Randy Nelson, who came from the animation studio Pixar, co-founded by Mr. Jobs, is one of the teachers of “Communicating at Apple.” This course, open to various levels of employees, focuses on clear communication, not just for making products intuitive, but also for sharing ideas with peers and marketing products.

In a version of the class taught last year, Mr. Nelson showed a slide of “The Bull,” a series of 11 lithographs of a bull that Picasso created over about a month, starting in late 1945. In the early stages, the bull has a snout, shoulder shanks and hooves, but over the iterations, those details vanish. The last image is a curvy stick figure that is still unmistakably a bull.

“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,” recalled one person who took the course.

Why does Apple think it’s important enough to deserve a whole class? How much attention do you pay to the way your team communicates? How much extra junk gets in the way of actually communicating? Perhaps a better question would be why so few companies seem to care that their people cannot communicate clearly with partners, the press, customers, or even each other.

(If you want to do this for your proposals, contact me— I won’t show you any Picassos, but I can probably take out 30-50% of your content and help you sell at higher margins.)

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