Adam Lashinsky's new book, “Inside Apple: How America's Most Admired - and Secretive - Company Really Works,” describes how Apple's obsession with secrecy is central to its success. In the introduction to the Fortune magazine book excerpt, Lashinsky notes the irony of the disconnect between Apple's secrecy and its status as the most admired company in the world.

In a video posted on Fortune’s web site, Lashinsky goes a bit further: “I don’t fault Apple for its culture of secrecy and I think that one of the fascinating debates that corporations should be having is, ‘Do we need to do a better job of shutting up?’”  This is a remarkable comment given the news media’s normal obsession with transparency.

When I lecture on public trust in business and mention the importance of transparency, I often ask classes how Apple can be so admired while being so secretive. The answer, invariably, is "great products."  I think that's right, and Lashinsky demonstrates the link between Apple's secretive practices and its successful product hype.

If we were talking only about Apple’s right to protect its product development information from competitors, you would get no argument from me. But I am left wondering how Apple manages to get away with secrecy on the kinds of things that corporate governance experts say should be disclosed, or that corporate culture experts say are not consistent with a trusting work environment.

It’s not accurate, of course, to suggest that Apple hasn’t been criticized for its opacity on issues like the late Steve Jobs’ health. But I think it is fair to say that those criticisms really haven’t hurt Apple’s reputation in a way that impacts its business.

It will be interesting to see if Apple evolves to a more conventional view of the importance of transparency on governance and business practice issues or, if not, if customers, employees and civil society will be willing, over the long term, to continue to give Apple a pass.

Roger Bolton,
Arthur W. Page Society