Insanely Simple – Don’t Think Simplicity Is Easy!

Insanely Simple – Don't Think Simplicity Is Easy!There’s an obvious pattern in presentations on Steve Jobs-related topics since his death: they typically sound like either a book report or a eulogy. One 2012 Jobs-related creativity panel I sat through even went so far as to refer to Jobs in the present tense and Apple in the past tense. While Steve Jobs’ impact on Apple was certainly all-encompassing, one thing is clear: Jobs is GONE, and Apple is still HERE.

Surprisingly then, it was a welcome contrast to hear author Ken Segall discuss his book, “Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success” at a Kansas City stop. Despite having just written a book on Apple’s strategic and design philosophy, Segall’s front row, dozen year working relationship with Jobs in an advertising agency role allowed him to smartly avoid the eulogy/book report trap.

Within “Insanely Simple,” Segall offers ten “Think-based” maxims (i.e., Think Brutal, Think Motion, Think Human, etc.) for simplicity. In person, his strongest take-aways were all “don’t” based guidelines and lessons:

1. You don’t bolt-on simple

Ken Segall acknowledged, “Being simple isn’t simple.” Jobs would challenge complexity by saying, “There are too many things in there.” Either way, if you want simple, start simple. Don’t expect to easily create simplicity from complexity. Simplicity is a world view, not an eleventh hour add-on.

2. Don’t allow complexity to creep in gradually

Segall characterized complexity as simplicity’s evil twin, identifying meetings, research, opinions, naysayers, competitors, and current events as all contributing to complexity in the Jobs world view. While organizations would do well to avoid certain items (meetings, opinions), it’s easier said than done to ignore others (research, competitors) absent a crystal clear, strongly guiding strategic direction.

3. If you don’t have anything to sell, simply sell a big idea

The now iconic “Think Different” campaign introduced during the Apple turnaround was developed, according to Segall, because Apple didn’t have anything new ready to sell. Because the campaign was authentic and fit with where Apple was headed, it still worked though.

4. Don’t ignore familiar models as a way to enforce simplicity

Segall showed a standard four-box matrix with “Home” and “Pro” on the x-axis and “Laptop” and “Desktop” on the y-axis. The four-box matrix structure imposed simplicity and a focus on making four great products: there were only four options with completely clear descriptions. This is a valuable lesson on using structure and models to impose a broader understanding and ability to work toward simplicity.

5. Don’t ignore messaging when you name things

Segall shared multiple quotes whose attribution was hotly debated among people live tweeting his presentation. Suffice it to say Leonardo da Vinci may or may not have said, “One should use common words to explain uncommon things.” No matter who said it, it’s a valuable admonition. Segall discussed naming with messaging in mind. He identified the Apple strategy of piecing together common words (pro, air, book, mini, tablet, pod, I) as accomplishing not only naming, but also reinforcing what the products are and how they relate to one another.

6. Smart people don’t automatically think with simplicity

While claiming simplicity as the ultimate competitive weapon, Segall admitted smart people don’t necessarily think simply. Simplicity isn’t native to everyone’s wiring, and smart people have more wiring to rewire. The simplicity equation Segall shared? Brains + Common Sense  = Simplicity. Since you don’t teach brains and common sense, structure (i.e., the four box matrix, using common words) helps guide people toward simplicity.

7. Make things simple, but not too simple

Segall’s stories were engaging, and it was a relief to hear first-hand accounts about Steve Jobs vs. third-hand anecdotes. But it’s easy, in the spirit of simplicity, to omit inconvenient details, making an historical business success seem perfectly smooth when it was anything but that. Negative stories that have been emerging about Jobs’ ego and temper seem to counterbalance some of the aura that surrounded him. Even Segall referenced this during his remarks. As he told the audience, lest it grow frustrated with his delivery, “I’m used to being heckled. I worked for Steve Jobs.”

image credit:  kensegall.com; portfoliohardcover.com

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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company’s chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is a frequent keynote presenter.

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One Response to Insanely Simple – Don’t Think Simplicity Is Easy!

  1. Bill Harte says:

    Keeping it simple is the most complex thing to do. Simple sells as it makes the functional benefit outstanding & clear – you either need or you don’t. If its complex you can’t work out if you need it…

    This book is going on the reading list – thanks for highlighting. I normally avoid “Apple is so cool” books…

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