What I've Learned from 7 Years at Apple

Personal | Design Thinking

What makes a brand grow to be loved by millions? How does a tech company relate so much to how people feel that it becomes a core part of their lives? Apple would know. 

I had a privilege to grow up with a brand during the start of it’s ascent to the technological throne. I was a recent High School graduate looking for a job in retail when Apple came knocking recruiting me to be a part of an up and coming revolution. I had to take it, how often do you get to be a part of a well-known company as a 17 year old? I still remember our first day at core training, I thought we were going to learn all the techs and the cool stuff that happens behind the scenes, but instead we spent almost a week taking in culture, Apple’s culture. That week changed everything for me. It served as a strong foundation for an incredible journey I’m about to be a part of. It gave me a glimpse of why this company was different, why they are WHAT they are and why they are so good at being WHO they are. It’s because of their WHY. 

Apple is not just a technology company or an exclusive brand, Apple is a way of thinking. They pride themselves for being the rebels, the square pegs on a round holes. They believe in challenging the status quo. That nothing is final, and everything can be innovated. They believed in observing, listening, and going against what is easy. This was their WHY. This mindset is not for everyone but somehow it attracts something within everyone. This attracted me and I dove head on. 

I’ve seen the iPod evolve from a 5lb. & 500 media player to a 5S smartphone that made hundreds line up at 5 freakin' am. I’ve seen hard drives shrink & the Cloud take over, I've seen stocks split and Apple rise to become the most profitable business in the world. I’ve also seen it’s founding father pass and how things never felt the same again. 

Here are 3 important life lessons I’ve learned while working at Apple:

1. Empathy, not technology, is how we enrich lives

When I started working at Apple my main title was Creative. I know right, who gets a title as cool as that? What the title actually meant was to be a person who can solve someone’s problems through creative means. As a creative we were tasked to take in and learn all of Apple’s core softwares and hardware so we can use these technologies to solve people’s problems. We would sit down with Apple users who are either new to their computers or professionals who have issues that they need to solve. This is where I learned the importance of empathy in solving problems. Usually people will just quickly listen to you and right away come up with a solution for your problems. Empathy goes a little deeper than just listening. Empathy taps into your own emotions. It’s looking at the issue not based on the problem but based on the person. This perspective allows you to go beyond what you know and risk trying new things for the sake of a solution. This is why I believe empathy is always the first step to solving any problem. It makes us human and allows us to use what we have, to think outside of the box, to be creative and take risks in order to solve a problem that’s more personal to us. 

2. Innovation means saying NO, a lot.

This one’s a lesson from Steve himself. I got to meet him twice when I was training in Cupertino. I remembered him buying an ice cream at the Mac Cafe (the campus’ commons area, it’s beyond awesome!). The lady behind the counter offered him a few really good choices - strawberry, chocolate, peanut butter. Without even thinking Steve said he wanted his Vanilla. I always remembered that. Steve likes his boring vanilla. His way of thinking when it comes to innovation has always been my standard. Yes, he did piss off a lot of his colleagues and I don't really recall him ever having any close personal relationships at work but he was well respected for his innovative mind. Steve always believed that innovation is saying no to a lot of things in order to pursue what is really important. His focus came from being comfortable to ignore & reject what is good for what is best. This isn’t easy but it’s important if we want to accomplish anything that really matters. We must learn to say no to a lot of good ideas to trim out what is the best for the problem in front of us. It goes the same with design, it’s not always about what’s cool or what’s pretty, it’s always about what works best. Don’t bother with the strawberry when you know vanilla is best. Thanks Steve. 

 

3. Our beliefs defines us

I had no technical or educational accolades to brag about when I started working at Apple. Every now and then this idea pops up that people won’t believe me because I was just 18, or that I didn’t have the experience or the education to back up my presentations or even my solutions. One thing Apple gave me though was a strong sense of belief. A belief, not just with their products, but about their intentions. Whenever I would facilitate a hiring seminar filled with national and regional managers, tenured professionals and even just people older than me, I would default to a mindset that I wasn’t qualified to do what I do. But then I would remember what my lead would always tell me, “people don’t listen to what you know, but they’ll listen to what you believe in.” I believed that Apple had the best culture in the world, I experience it everyday. They make the best products and bring exceptional services, I get to use them everyday. And Apple believed that that I can convey this truth to the people who are wiling to listen. Thinking about these things gave me confidence, not in myself, but with the company I represented and the excellence that comes with it.

 

These lessons are the foundation of how I now look at design, how I develop and how I create. I will always be creative both with my hands and my heart and I owe a big part of it to a company that believed in me and always reminded me to Think Different.