Book review: Insanely Simple
Of all of the books jumping on the Steve Jobs bandwagon, this is perhaps the one that’s most of value.
- by Peter Labrow
This is perhaps the one management book which has really resonated with me since Don Peppers and Martha Rogers’ The One-To-One Future. Let’s face it, that’s not great: that was published in 1996.
I’m old enough to have worked for organisations both large and small – as an employee and as an outside supplier. It can be frustrating to be working for an organisation that has a core of brilliance but somehow can’t get things done – this book explains the one simple reason why this is often the case: they can’t do things in a simple way.
The book’s author, Ken Segall, worked as a marketing provider to Apple – and, at the same time, Intel, Dell and other large IT companies. It’s essentially the story of what makes Apple such a force to be reckoned with – but isn’t merely a sanctification of Steve Jobs.
Yes, Steve is mentioned aplenty and is usually the centre of the many examples given. But while it touches on many of the facets of Steve’s character which made him so successful, it focuses on one thing which almost anyone can do to improve their business – yet, will find an incredibly difficult and elusive concept to implement: simplicity.
Steve was often regarded as ruthless. Although there’s some truth in that, it’s probably better to say that he was single-minded. He wanted to get things done – and he often wanted to get them done fast. He didn’t like to hear the word ‘no’.
Well, we’ve all worked with managers who think that’s the right way to move a company forward, that without their aggression, people simply wouldn’t do their best. Steve’s single-mindedness wasn’t like that. He often knew that there was a better way and he provided a means to get there. He demanded simplicity.
Steve himself said that simplicity is hard to achieve. Segall’s book tells the journey of a marketing man working with Steve Jobs as he struggled to rebuild his massively broken former empire.
In big-company terms, some of the stories are amazing – such as when Steve returned to Apple and decided that it needed a branding campaign. After all, the company’s brand was in the gutter. Yet Apple had never run a campaign that was only about brand, ever. What was aired was one of the greatest campaigns of all time – the Apple ‘here’s to the crazy ones’ commercial, which was the spearhead for the company’s ‘think different’ brand campaign.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Anyone who’s ever tried to get a brand campaign running will tell you how hard it can be. First, the company has to understand its own values. Then, it has to work out the smartest way to communicate them. Steve wanted, needed, his campaign to be done fast. It took around a month – a simply astonishing amount of time.
The book contrasts this with Dell, who, after six months, still hadn’t worked out what it stood for; it hadn’t even got off the starting blocks. The book also contrastsApplewith Intel, which stifles creativity and strong ideas with the overuse of focus groups, which dilute ideas until they are not only inoffensive, they are ineffective. Or, the excessive use of testing analytics to remove any element of risk – and most elements of impact.
Apple never uses focus groups. Ever. It’s smart enough to know a good idea when it sees one and has the confidence to run with it. When it makes a mistake (such as the round ‘puck’ mouse), it admits that mistake – and moves on quickly. This sounds arrogant, but the point is that not only does Apple trust itself, it knows how to keep things simple. It runs major meetings as conversations, not as presentations. Decision-making teams often number just two or three people; if you’re not absolutely needed at a meeting, you won’t be invited. If you turn up anyway, you’ll be ejected. Apple – not just Jobs – is ruthless about simplicity.
Other companies believe that large project teams mean more brains on the job. Apple knows that this means more points of view, more conversations, more meetings, more cost, more delays – and a watered-down concept.
Other companies believe in inclusivity. That getting the ‘wider view’ will win hearts and minds. Apple believes in secrecy – that they have the knowledge, the smarts, the energy needed to make something really great that will win hearts and minds all on its own. Apple knows that the wider your outside involvement, the more people you have to please – and the less focused the idea.
Apple’s obsession reaches into every aspect of what it does, including having teams working in secret to create packaging that delights people before the product is even pulled from the box. Other companies simply buy the cheapest brown pulp boxes they can.
Apple is now one of the most profitable companies in the world. It makes more money than most other computer companies combined, despite not having the largest market share. Its products reshape markets. That isn’t magic – it’s damned hard work and a passion about one thing: simplicity.
This is one book every business leader should read. Many will read it with envy, unable to envisage how they can possibly change the culture of their organisation into one that’s both asempowered and asempowering – and therefore so effective.
Here’s to the crazy people.