Apple is a famous success story, but how this came to be is often obscured by the general admiration for the company and its famous founder.
This article brings state-of-the-art tools of social network analysis to bear on a fascinating problem from the history of venture: how exactly did Apple evolve its outstanding success, and what role did Steve Jobs’s exceptional abilities play in this story?
The author uses the dataset of the company’s prolific patenting activity from 1978 to 2014 as raw material, and utilizes the 9,663 patents and 5,272 unique inventors it contains to track, over time, the shape and composition of the social networks responsible for producing Apple’s patents. The patent publication rate is shown to have risen from one per year in the late 1970s to 2,231 in 2014. While this in itself is not surprising, the changes in time in the visualizations of Apple’s internal inventor networks, and their relationship to different product lines and organizational units, highlight what has been going on during the company’s growth.
The findings made visible through this network analysis technique show how Apple’s technology and inventor networks grew exponentially over the years; how clusters of related technologies and inventors emerged, evolved, and stabilized over time in connection to many of Apple’s key product lines; and how highly connected individuals – Steve Jobs certainly, but also various other key inventors in specific technology areas – acted as bridges between the different technology clusters in ways that also evolved over time.
Appeared in CVR Issue 2 – History of Venture
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