The Critical Path #80: Functional Structure

A report on Ùll with recollections from Don Metlon and Michael B. Johnson (Dr. Wave): what is a functional organization and why is that a thing of beauty? What do Pixar and Apple have in common? What is Horace’s favorite Pixar movie? Also a new mini-installment on “Asymcar”, what’s wrong with cars?

via 5by5 | The Critical Path #80: Functional Structure.

  • berult

    Exit disruption if you wish.

    Enter exvention as I’d wish. To exvent.

    Exvention theory: to create motion and emotion within a solid grid of stillness and staleness. And prosper from the genius trait so that the exventor may…for posterity…tell tall tales about it. And have everyone awestruck from motion wellness.

  • Bruce_Mc

    I’m sure you are aware that the circle was not the first design for Apple’s new HQ. There was a passage about this in Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs.

    My concern is that a “crisis point” will occur with the design of the new Apple HQ, and nobody at Apple will have the guts to break the glass and pull the alarm, out of fear or respect of what Jobs planned before he died.

    Examples of Jobs stopping production at Apple until something was fixed: replacing clear plastic with glass on the first iPhone, replacing a fixed in place latch on the Titanium Powerbook cover with the magnetically activated hidden latch.

    On another topic, I have noticed the declining meaning in the word disrupt. In the 1990s the same thing happened with the word “innovate.” People started throwing that word around. Now “innovation” is used for things like adding fins on cars in the 1950’s.

  • poke

    I disagree with the characterisation of EV technology as a “component.” Moving to an all-electric drive chain is a huge change. I don’t think it’s wrong to say cars are built around the combustion engine. I also think the mainstream appeal of EVs (or Tesla at least) will have less to do with solving environmental problems and more to do with user experience. Car enthusiasts tend to be blind to the fact that the internal combustion engine is noisy, polluting and requires a lot of maintenance. As EVs become more popular I think we’ll eventually see a tipping point where driving an internal combustion engine vehicle is consider rude, especially in cities.

    I also think EVs are part of the general trend of “softwarization.” The solution to range anxiety, for example, is not simply better batteries (although note that Telsa’s battery technology relies heavily on a software solution itself) but GPS, route finding, maps and networking. We no longer live in a world where you have to drive around looking for a gas station; everything can be planned ahead of time. The better map data Tesla has, the better the user experience they can offer. Last I heard they were planning an over-the-air firmware update that would add elevation data to their maps for better range prediction. They could also add outside temperature, weather, etc.

    I think this is important to consider because software has historically been a huge sticking point for non-software-oriented companies. Softwarization usually means industries get taken over by companies with software expertise because engineering companies do not seem to be capable of assimilating such expertise (particularly if the software involves an element of user experience). I think the mistake that the automotive companies will make is the same one you’re making: they’ll think EVs are all about the drivetrain and that, therefore, Tesla is over-serving. They’ll buy smaller companies that offer EV drivetrains or license from Tesla rather than buying the whole company. Even if an existing company does buy Tesla, they may not be able to assimilate it, because they don’t fully understand it.

    For these reasons, I think it’d make more sense for Google or Apple to buy Tesla. The user experience is highly dependent on the kind of software and services these companies provide and the car is another entry point into their ecosystems.

    • KirkBurgess

      Another aspect of Tesla that is often overlooked is the customer relationship: they want to control it from beginning to end with no 3rd party involvement.

      – you buy a car direct from Tesla, either from the website or from a tesla owned store.
      – your car is manufactured by tesla based on your customisation
      – your car is delivered by tesla
      – on road trips you top up your car at Tesla Supercharger stations.
      – your car is serviced by tesla service centres
      – your car receives over the air software updates from tesla.
      – if you use the tesla financing option, tesla will buy your car back at a predetermined price

  • I was fascinated to hear your take on the shape of the new Apple campus. I shared similar thoughts comparing Apple’s and Google’s new headquarters on

    I think about your comparison of the Apple design to the Pentagon is spot on.

    But, I am mindful that all this is speculation about architectural renderings rather than architectural reality. And, I am very cautious about commenting about how these companies accomplish their work. The topic of the relationship between organizational and architectural structure is of great interest to me.

  • Sebi

    “When founder Larry Page took over in April of 2011, it was clear he agreed. One of his first moves as the new CEO was to re-organize Google so that it was tightly focused around product divisions. Instead of functional divides like Finance, Legal, Marketing, and Infrastructure, Page created seven new structures: Mobile, Social, Chrome, YouTube, Ads, Search, and GeoCommerce.” –

    • KirkBurgess

      Isn’t that going the opposite way to Apple? Siloing product divisions? Can’t have worked to well considering the chrome manager now oversees android also.