The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
By Ken Segall
Published by Portfolio
Copyright © 2012 by Polymorph-on-Hudson, Inc
Every one of Apple’s revolutions was born of the company’s devotion to Simplicity. Each new device either created a new category or turned an existing category on its head—all because, as an old iMac ad put it, the technology was “simply amazing, and amazingly simple.”
Having played a lead role in the marketing of Intel, Dell, and IBM, as well as Apple, I can assure you that Apple’s focus on Simplicity is unique. It goes beyond enthusiasm, beyond passion, all the way to obsession.
While Apple’s love of Simplicity started in the mind of Steve Jobs, it’s now burned deep into the company’s DNA, serving as a guide for legions of employees around the world. It pays off in the satisfaction that comes with sparking revolution after revolution. It also pays off in a more traditional way—with massive piles of cash.
To appreciate that, you need only look at the size of Apple’s profits versus those of any one competitor. Better yet, look at the size of Apple’s profits versus those of all of its competitors combined. In the third quarter of 2011, Apple’s 4 percent of the smartphone market accounted for over half of the entire industry’s profits. In PCs, Apple’s small market share (about 5 percent worldwide) also rakes in a greatly disproportionate percentage of the total industry’s profits.
By no means am I saying that Simplicity is the sole factor behind Apple’s success. Leadership, vision, talent, imagination, and incredibly hard work may have just a bit to do with it. But there’s one common thread that runs through it all. That’s Simplicity. It’s what drives Apple to create what it creates and behave as it behaves. It’s Apple’s devotion to Simplicity that forms an unbreakable connection with its customers and inspires customers to evangelize to colleagues, friends, and family.
Simplicity not only enables Apple to revolutionize—it enables Apple to revolutionize “repeatedly.” As the world changes, as technology changes, as the company itself adapts to change, the religion of Simplicity is the one constant. It’s the set of values that allows Apple to turn technology into devices that are just too hard to resist.
There’s nothing subtle about Apple’s love affair with Simplicity. It’s everywhere you look. It’s in the company’s products, its ads, its internal organization, its stores, and its customer relationships. Inside Apple, Simplicity is a goal, a work style, and a measuring stick.
But all of this leads to a very good question: If Apple’s obsession with Simplicity is so obvious, and the financial results are equally obvious, why on earth aren’t other technology companies simply copying Apple’s methods to achieve the same level of success?
The quick answer: It ain’t easy.
Simplicity is not merely a layer that can be grafted onto a business. It isn’t available in a prepackaged version. It doesn’t work with an on/off switch. Yet it’s there for absolutely anyone to take advantage of, if only they have the determination and knowledge.
Simplicity doesn’t spontaneously spring to life with the right combination of molecules, water, and sunlight. It needs a champion—someone who’s willing to stand up for its principles and strong enough to resist the overtures of Simplicity’s evil twin, Complexity. It needs someone who’s willing to guide a process with both head and heart.
As you can imagine, it’s a lot more fun to wield the Simple Stick than it is to get whacked by it. By embracing the values of Simplicity, you will be the one who promotes change, keeps colleagues on course, and proves your value to the company day by day.
The Undeniable Truth
Since this book is about Simplicity, it’s important to point out that virtually everything you read here is born of one simple fact: People prefer Simplicity.
Maybe it’s a little early in the book to be quite so simple. So here’s a slightly wordier version: Given the option, any sane person will choose the simple path over one that’s more complicated.
If that still seems too obvious, then you’re well on your way to appreciating one of Simplicity’s most outstanding attributes. It looks, acts, and sounds perfectly natural. Your head involuntarily nods in agreement.
But never underestimate the degree to which people crave this kind of clarity and respond positively to it. Most of us live in a world that’s become increasingly complicated, where Simplicity isn’t all that easy to find. It boils down to basic supply and demand: As Simplicity becomes more rare, it also becomes more valuable. So your ability to keep things simple, and protect things from becoming more complicated, becomes more valuable as well.
part three of ‘Insanely Simple’ appears here tomorrow