Insanely Simple

I learned quite a lot about organizational culture while reading Ken Segall’s Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success.

Segall worked closely with Steve Jobs as an ad agency creative director for NeXT and Apple and was a member of the team that created the legendary ‘Think Different’ campaign. Oh, and he’s also the guy responsible for the “i” that found itself in Apple product names like the the iPad and iPhone.

Segall compares the difference between working with Apple and working with other companies like Dell and Intel and the contrast is shocking. Apple might be the biggest corporation in the world but it’s certainly not the most bureaucratic.

Here are some of my highlights from the book.

Why is it that only a small handful of companies are able to produce truly great marketing campaigns?

One major reason is that most big organizations are simply awful at thinking small. They’re unable to streamline complicated processes. Even when they successfully identify their challenges, develop strategies, and create great work that brings them to life, their processes choke the life out of that work. They inflict endless meetings and multiple approvals upon what should be a simpler way of working.

What you ask for and what you allow …

Companies that don’t have a leader with Steve’s passion tend to see marketing in more clinical terms. For them, marketing is just another spoke in the wheel, an organization within the organization. Chief marketers in these companies typically demand brilliant creativity but support processes that make it difficult. They seem to think that if they demand greatness, it will somehow land on their desk.

If process is king …

When process is king, ideas will never be. It takes only Common Sense to recognize that the more layers you add to a process, the more watered down the final work will become.

Most companies have an inability to focus …

Many companies can’t stop themselves from responding to every opportunity, trying to please every customer and close every sale — when in fact they would be better served by making their product lineup logical and easier to navigate. They seem to forget that trying to please everyone is a good way to please no one.

Powerpoint is a poor method of communication …

It drove Steve batty to see in twenty slides what could be spoken in three sentences. He valued his time way too much for that. He preferred straight talk and raw content to a slick presentation. In fact, a slick presentation would only make him suspect that you were fluffing up the few facts you really had. It meant that you’d devoted valuable time to the wrapping of your idea rather than thinking through the content itself. … Few people who attend an overblown, hard-to-digest presentation return to their offices eager to set the world on fire. Most prefer to head for the nearest bar. This is not the way to inspire people to greatness. This is simply checking off boxes to make sure every last fact is on the table. It serves the purpose of the presenters, but not the attendees.

Did Jobs listen to the experts?

This is not to say that Steve’s skepticism led him to ignore his experts’ advice. It just means that he would consider their advice in context of other evidence, his larger goals for the company, and common sense.

Still curious? Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success is an invaluable look into Apple, what makes the company amazing, and why that’s so hard to copy.