Tag: Ken Segall

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.

Simplicity’s Best Friend: Small Groups of Smart People

More brains don’t necessarily lead to better ideas. When it came to leading meetings, Jobs had no qualms about tossing the least necessary person out of the room.

An excerpt from Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success:

One particular day, there appeared in our midst a woman from Apple with whom I was unfamiliar. I don’t recall her name, as she never appeared in our world again, so for the purposes of this tale, I’ll call her Lorrie. She took her seat with the rest of us as Steve breezed into the boardroom, right on time. Steve was in a sociable mood, so we chatted it up for a few minutes, and then the meeting began. “Before we start, let me just update you on a few things,” said Steve, his eyes surveying the room. “First off, let’s talk about iMac–” He stopped cold. His eyes locked on to the one thing in the room that didn’t look right. Pointing to Lorrie, he said, “Who are you?”

Lorrie was a bit stunned to be called out like that, but she calmly explained that she’d been asked to attend because she was involved with some of the marketing projects we’d be discussing. Steve heard it. Processed it. Then he hit her with the Simple Stick. “I don’t think we need you in this meeting, Lorrie. Thanks,” he said. Then, as if that diversion had never occurred–and as if Lorrie never existed–he continued with his update. So, just as the meeting started, in front of eight or so people whom Steve did want to see at the table, poor Lorrie had to pack up her belongings, rise from her chair, and take the long walk across the room toward the door. Her crime: She had nothing to add.

Simplicity’s Best Friend: Small Groups of Smart People

Start with small groups of smart people–and keep them small. Every time the body count goes higher, you’re simply inviting complexity to take a seat at the table. The small-group principle is deeply woven into the religion of Simplicity. It’s key to Apple’s ongoing success and key to any organization that wants to nurture quality thinking. The idea is pretty basic: Everyone in the room should be there for a reason. There’s no such thing as a “mercy invitation.” Either you’re critical to the meeting or you’re not. It’s nothing personal, just business.

Steve Jobs actively resisted any behavior he believed representative of the way big companies think–even though Apple had been a big company for many years. He knew that small groups composed of the smartest and most creative people had propelled Apple to its amazing success, and he had no intention of ever changing that. When he called a meeting or reported to a meeting, his expectation was that everyone in the room would be an essential participant. Spectators were not welcome.

This was based on the somewhat obvious idea that a smaller group would be more focused and motivated than a large group, and smarter people will do higher quality work. For a principle that would seem to be common sense, it’s surprising how many organizations fail to observe it. How many overpopulated meetings do you sit through during the course of a year? How many of those meetings get sidetracked or lose focus in a way that would never occur if the group were half the size? The small-group rule requires enforcement, but it’s worth the cost.

Remember, complexity normally offers the easy way out. It’s easier to remain silent and let the Lorries of the world take their seats at the table, and most of us are too mannerly to perform a public ejection. But if you don’t act to keep the group small, you’re creating an exception to the rule–and Simplicity is never achieved through exceptions. Truthfully, you can do the brutal thing without being brutal. Just explain your reasons. Keep the group small.

Prior to working with Steve Jobs, I worked with a number of more traditional big companies. So it was a shock to my system (in a good way) when I entered Steve’s world of Simplicity. In Apple’s culture, progress was much easier to attain. It was also a shock to my system (in a bad way) when I left Steve’s world and found myself suffering through the same old issues with more traditional organizations again.


Out in the real world, when I talk about small groups of smart people, I rarely get any pushback. That’s because common sense tells us it’s the right way to go. Most people know from experience that the fastest way to lose focus, squander valuable time, and water down great ideas is to entrust them to a larger group. Just as we know that there is equal danger in putting ideas at the mercy of a large group of approvers.

One reason why large, unwieldy groups tend to be created in many companies is that the culture of a company is bigger than any one person. It’s hard to change “the way we do things here.” This is where the zealots of Simplicity need to step in and overcome the inertia. One must be judicious and realistic about applying the small-group principle. Simply making groups smaller will obviously not solve all problems, and “small” is a relative term. Only you know your business and the nature of your projects, so only you can draw the line between too few people and too many. You need to be the enforcer and be prepared to hit the process with the Simple Stick when the group is threatened with unnecessary expansion.

Still curious? Learn more about Apple’s culture by reading Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success.