What Steve Jobs Learned From Walt Disney About Organizational Design

There is a much talked about article about Apple and Steve Jobs done by Fortune. The problem is that you can’t get the article online, nor is the article found in the edition that is currently available on the newsstands. You can only get the article if you have the Fortune iPad app. So while I would like to link to the article, I can’t. [UPDATE] here’s the link to the teaser for the article with links to download the iPad app or the Kindle version of the article.

Silicon Alley Insider/Business Insider has three different articles about the Fortune article if you’d like to check those out. They really are worth the read.

Once I was finally able to read the original Fortune article something immediately jumped out at me, Apple’s org chart. It’s pretty different from most companies org charts. Some of it’s just the way it’s laid out but it’s meant to optimize the genius of Jobs. Some argue that this is just a better designed version of a traditional org chart. I think there’s a big difference in the way this looks and the way it works.

First take a look at the above Apple org chart (you can click the link to see the full size). Now compare Apple’s org chart to Walt Disney’s org chart below (again you can click the link to see the full size).

Then I would like to point you to an article I read a few years ago about Walt Disney’s org chart:

“The Disney org chart, on the other hand, is based on process, from the story idea through direction to the final release of the film. All of the staff positions are in the service of supporting this work flow. Perhaps the question now is what should the org chart of the future look like, given the global workforce, telecommuting personnel, virtual employees, outsourced jobs and contract workers who sometimes outnumber salaried staff? In an idea-based, rather than a manufacturing-based, economy, how should a business organize itself? Does the very nature of their assignments imply that designers will always work in an environment like the Disney org chart and clients will always work in a hierarchical structure? And is this difference the crux of the disconnect between how designers and clients look at problems?”

While there are some serious differences between the two, how much do you want to bet that there are more similarities than differences, especially in implementation and go-to-market activities.  I also don’t know that Disney is still structured this way. I doubt it. But I don’t think that it is a coincidence that Steve Jobs is the majority shareholder of Disney.

We live in an idea based economy, where ideas (and implementation of those ideas) are more important than the products themselves. I’ve believed for several years now that the traditional org chart has outlived it’s usefulness. I think that in an idea based, knowledge economy, something more fluid, like these two charts may be a better way to go. Something based on workflow and design rather than managerial oversight and silos.

[UPDATED] After posting this a thought that was nagging at the back of my head finally materialized while I was in the shower (all the good ideas happen in the shower). The nagging feeling was that this was also related to social media (which for me everything is).

The two above org charts are also very similar to the hub and spoke model for social media organization.

Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter has a great post you should read about the various social media frameworks. He alternatively calls the Hub and Spoke model the Coordinated model and there’s also Multiple Hub and Spoke or Dandelion model.

These are the two models most preferred by organizations for implementing social media  and I know it’s the model we most highly recommend because it’s the most flexible and effective in the real-time environment of social media.

What do you think?

Please be sure to see my disclosures page.

About Tac Anderson

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.
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  • http://www.FreeworldMedia.com Sean Wood

    This is actually a savvy move by Fortune to drive downloads of their iPad app. I imagine we’ll see more content released exclusively on various devices as other magazines race make the transition from print magazines to paid digital content. Media producers can offer high-value, hard-to-find content and encourage its spread by influentials reviewing the featured content.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    I guess it makes an interesting experiment. I just wonder if it makes sense for an app that’s only on one platform. People without an iPad are SOL (and have to get bootlegged copies . It will be interesting to watch.

  • http://www.FreeworldMedia.com Sean Wood

    Interesting… Have you seen the ‘web app’ called Fortune500+ that they released last week?
    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/05/02/apple_time_deal/

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    @seanwood:disqus It turns out you can also purchase the article via the Kindle
    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/05/09/inside-apple/

  • http://www.pinpointperformance.net/blog Justin Beller

    I imagine most businesses have similar org structures where the person at the top is the visionary/leader and those below bring about the vision to reality. You are right about the difference between the above org charts and many others. Places like Apple and Disney are idea-based companies while many others are production-based.

    Idea-based companies are the innovators and risk-takers in our society and we definitely need them, but the danger of idea-based companies is when you have one or a few people at the top (who have all the ideas), the entire structure will suffer when they are absent. You basically have a rudderless ship. I fear Apple will struggle after Jobs, but it appears they are taking steps to make sure that the struggle will not be for very long. Now, this begs another question: you can teach management, but can you teach ideas and innovation?

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com tacanderson

    @jbeller:disqus you’re exactly right and that’s the big unknown with Apple: Can they survive after Jobs? Only one way to find that out – wait and see.

    But that is definitely a big reason why Apple is doing what they are doing. As far as can you teach ideas/vision. I think you can to a point but not to the level of someone like Jobs. But if you read the article you’ll see that’s why he nurtures an internal “100″ group. I bet Apple attracts that type to person so it’s probably less about teaching vision and more about nurturing it.

  • Oliver

    With all due respect, but did you closely look at Apples chart? Its nothing but a traditional Org chart with Jobs on the top, his lieutenants underneath and the teams underneath that – rolled up into a ball!! How original is that?

    This reminds me of Apples “original” design, most of which has been copied from Braun in the 70ties http://gizmodo.com/343641/1960s-braun-products-hold-the-secrets-to-apples-future

    Disney chart on the other hand REALLY looks different.

  • http://twitter.com/slcmyers Shannon Myers

    Justin makes sense here. When you go from the top down instead of center and spoke you are reliant on the top person to succeed. 

  • http://www.online-business-virtual-assistant.com/ Virtual Business Assistant

    social media is an effective tool to get exposure and for creating brand awareness. the best part of social media is that you can have others opinion about your product.. i guess this is the only reason why we are seeing such a huge turnouts of companies in media’s like FB & Twitter