Insanely Simple | Ken Segall

Author: Ken Segall
Author: Ken Segall
Main Theme: Simplicity
For People Who: Want to see how simplicity can drive success

If you’ve ever wanted to be a fly on the wall at Apple when Steve Jobs was CEO, Insanely Simple is one you will find very interesting! I’m a big Apple fan, so it was a thrill to learn one of the key factors of Apple’s comeback after Steve Jobs’ 11 year exile from the company he founded was Simplicity. The author, Ken Segall, worked for years on Apple ad campaigns such as Think Different and Mac vs PC. (go ahead and stop reading for a minute and watch those ads – they’re great!) He’s also the one responsible for the ‘i’ in front of Apple products. In retelling his experiences with Steve Jobs he often references Steve’s “simple stick.” It was Steve’s way of knocking out the complexity in everything in order to make things as simple as possible. Complexity has a tendency to work it’s way into an organization, it’s systems, and it’s products. It’s interesting to look back and see the decisions that were made at Apple with the advantage of knowing how things worked out. Apple is one of the strongest and most well-known brands in the world. One reason for such notoriety is because Apple keeps everything insanely simple.

Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains. –Steve Jobs

Take-Aways

  • Sometimes the easy path is not always the simple path. The easy path can actually cause more complexity and complications than the simple path.
  • Leaders will always be criticized. Especially when you’re at the top of your game. Steve Jobs could be critical, but he also received lots of criticism. He processed it, took what he needed, and let the rest roll out of his mind.
  • When a vision slows down, that is when it gets nibbled to death by naysayers.
  • Your attempt to please everyone means you will end up pleasing no one.

Brief Summary

The Simple Stick

Given the option, any sane person will choose the simple path over one that’s more complicated.” (pg. 4) So why is it that more organizations choose complexity over simplicity? Answer: It isn’t easy! Simplicity is not just a goal for yourself or your organization, it is a skill you must learn. Like leadership, all of us have the ability to surge ahead through simplicity, we only need the right tools and frame of mind to do so. To be simple, you must think simple.

Think Brutal

Steve Jobs was known for his, how can I saw this, his brutal honesty. If he thought your work was terrible he would not shy away from telling you. Sweet and simple. “Blunt is Simplicity. Meandering is Complexity.” (pg. 13) Jobs had standards for the work that Apple produced and the ads that Apple ran. He wasn’t going to compromise his vision in order to spare someone else’s feelings. And certainly there is a difference between “brutally honest and simply being brutal.” (pg. 14)

One particular section I found humorous was the reference to Steve’s “Rotating Turret.” Someone would say something stupid. An awkward silence would commence as Steve slowly zeroed in on the target and once he was locked on he unleashed everything in his arsenal. It’s quite a humorous idea…as long as you weren’t the one being targeted.

Think Small

On one occasion a woman named Lorrie was invited to an ad meeting without Steve knowing it. Just as he started the meeting he realized a new face was present and immediately dismissed her saying, “I don’ think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks.” Segall uses this as an impactful story to express one of Apple’s deepest commitments when it comes to Simplicity: “Start with small groups of smart people – and keep them small.” Smaller groups of smart people work faster, more brilliantly, come to quicker decisions, and achieve better results than large groups.

The operative theory is that more brains equal more ideas. That’s hard to argue with – except that only occasionally do more brains mean better ideas. –Insanely Simple, pg. 30

Think Minimal

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things. –Steve Jobs, 1997 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference

Trying to focus on more than one thing almost certainly guarantees that the most important thing will elude you. Trying to communicate more than one idea simply means that none of the ideas will be received. Many years ago the president and CEO of Nike asked Steve for any advice. Steve said, “…you also make a lot of crap. Just get rid of the crappy stuff and focus on the good stuff.” (pg. 51) It’s impossible to please everyone. And your attempt to please everyone means that in the end you’ll please no one.

Think Motion

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 it was nearing bankruptcy. I know, it’s hard to believe considering where it is now. Steve couldn’t afford to move slowly. He set new computer designs and new advertising in motion and drove it with veracity. When you have a vision of what you want to accomplish and where you want to go, Simplicity requires you to think motion. Keep it moving. When the vision slows down, that’s when it gets nibbled to death.

Think Iconic

Memorable images often communicate more effectively than words – which is why those who value Simplicity tend to rely on them. –Insanely Simple, pg. 203

The first major campaign Apple did after the return of Steve Jobs was the Think Different campaign. (take a listen to the ad again, but with Jobs narrating). The Think Different campaign was designed around images of people who have made a tremendous difference in the world. Images say so much more than words. It made Apple’s brand associated with iconic figures. By thinking iconic, it allows a ton of core value information to be communicated by an organization in just a few images…Simplicity at it’s best. Watch the ad and see how powerful it still is.

Think Phrasal

Products and services provided by an organization/company is the first area that  is impacted when you think phrasal. Ever wonder why Apple started putting “i” in front of their products? (iMac, iPod, iPhone, etc) Well I won’t tell you why, you’ll have to read the book. But it produces in the mind an immediate association with Apple products. “Apple is unrelenting about sending the message of Simplicity to its customers. It does that with every product it creates – and every word it chooses.” (pg. 125)

Think Casual

 Operating like a smaller, less hierarchical company makes everyone more productive – and makes it more likely that you’ll become a bigger business…internally, and on a day-to-day basis with your clients – deformalize. –Insanely Simple, pg. 204

Steve Jobs didn’t have a lot of time for formality. He often put his bare feet up on the table during meetings – the picture of casualness. Get to the point, make it quick, and then move on. Formality is the enemy of Simplicity.

Think Human

Sometimes the numbers just don’t say enough when it comes to an organization or the results it gets. Allowing your heart into the decision-making process and remembering why you do what you do can turn the tide. Ultimately it’s not about making money or gaining influence – it’s about the people your organization helps.

Process makes you more efficient. But innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realize something that shoots holes in how we’ve been thinking about a problem. It’s ad hoc meetings of six people called by someone who thinks he has figured out the coolest new thing ever and who wants to know what other people think of his idea. –Steve Jobs, 2004 BusinessWeek Interview

Think Skeptic

Complexity will always tell you something can’t be done. What it means by that is, “It will be really, really hard to do and I don’t want to do it.” Simplicity isn’t always easy, remember? You will always have skeptics who hound your every step with negative feedback. Take the facts and honest assessment, but leave the rest, get better, and move on. “Real leaders have the ability to grasp the context and decide accordingly.” (pg. 205) From choosing the name iPhone to the creation of Apple Stores, Apple had skeptics trailing after it. But Steve Jobs knew what he was doing, and the rest is history.

Think War

Apple has always had an enemy to focus it’s attention and get better. Whether it was Microsoft, Intel, Dell, the entire PC world, Samsung – the list goes on! The main idea behind Think War is that worthy ideas are worth fighting for. Use every weapon in your arsenal, put everything you’ve got into it, take risks, and overwhelm with force. Remember this one thing: Simplicity is what can separate you from victory. Keep it simple and your competition may just collapse on itself.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed reading this book. As I said, I’m a big Apple fan, but even if I wasn’t I have always found Steve Jobs to be an inspiring figure. His grit, creativity, vision of the future, tenacity, and of course, his simplicity. I’ve gone back and watched several videos on Youtube of his unveiling presentations (iPhone, iPad, etc). He said “It’s just simple” so many times. In a world of ever growing complexity, if your organization can make things simple, people will flock to your banner.

Once you start seeing the world through the lens of Simplicity, you’ll be astounded at how many opportunities exist to improve the way your business works.” –Insanely Simple, pg 207

As a Christian pastor, I found this book to be an excellent companion to Simple Churchwhich takes a similar approach to church ministry: keep it simple! It even uses Apple as several times as an example of simplicity. I hope you enjoy reading this book as I did.

Information and Personal Rating

General Information:

Personal Ratings (1-10)

  • Applicability: 9
  • Readability: 9 (later in the book there are some slow parts, but otherwise it’s exciting to read)
  • Originality: 9
  • Recommendation: Yes – I really enjoyed reading this book and would recommend leaders to read it.
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