The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success
By Ken Segall
Published by Portfolio
Copyright © 2012 by Polymorph-on-Hudson, Inc
Selected experiences from all of these times are distilled into this book. My goal is to present a diverse selection of stories that together define the obsession that drives Apple’s success. I do this in the hope that it can also drive your company’s success.
What Makes Simplicity Tick
For a concept that’s supposed to be obvious, Simplicity can be difficult to describe. It can be a choice, a feeling, or a guiding light. You might even think of it as a spirit, for you can tell pretty quickly when you’re in a place that believes in it and when you’re in a place that doesn’t.
Simplicity is the love child of two of the most powerful forces in business: Brains and Common Sense.
Since most people are endowed with both, you’d think that Simplicity would rule the world. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For example, Common Sense would suggest that when Microsoft created the Zune Store to compete with the iTunes Store, it would have charged a fixed price per song, much as Apple did. Instead, it offered “Microsoft Points,” which required customers to purchase points by the hundred, then use a conversion rate of eighty points to the dollar to buy a ninety-nine-cent song. The architect of that scheme seems to be missing the Common Sense gene—and those who approved it were a bit light in the Brains department.
No, the fact is that Brains and Common Sense often go AWOL in this world, even inside companies that were founded on sheer smarts, like Microsoft. Once again, that’s because Simplicity has its own kryptonite in the equal and opposite force of Complexity. If one were to judge by the balance we currently see in this world, a strong argument could be made that Complexity may even be the stronger of the two.
It is because of the existence of Complexity, and the safe haven it finds all around us, that even those with the best of intentions—well stocked with Brains and Common Sense—sometimes fail in their quest for Simplicity.
Simplicity and Complexity have been locked in mortal combat since the dawn of civilization. And Complexity, unfortunately, is part of the human condition. It lives inside all of us—yes, including people like Steve Jobs. By the end of this book, you’ll see that even Steve, champion of Simplicity, was perfectly capable of lapsing and falling victim, if only momentarily, to the Complexity within.
Unlike Simplicity, which normally presents itself with a certain elegance, Complexity can get ugly. Even worse, it can never die. But the good news is, neither can Simplicity. It’s capable of defeating any challenge from the dark side—it just needs someone to fight on its behalf.
Happily, you don’t have to start from scratch. You can take some lessons from the company that wrote the book on Simplicity. Like Apple, you can use the power of Simplicity to get noticed in a complicated world.
Your competitors may be bigger or better funded—but you’ll have the Simple Stick.
Prepare for Battle
Over years of meetings with Steve Jobs and his Apple marketing team, it was obvious that I was working in a special place. So I made it a habit to put an asterisk in my notes when something memorable happened or a key decision was made. I wanted to bookmark the things that made Apple different from other companies I’d worked with.
When I looked back at my notes, I thought there were way too many asterisks to make any sense of them. However, when my harvest was complete, I realized that just about every one of these moments in some way reflected Apple’s obsession with Simplicity. Though Apple applies its obsession in many different ways, the moments I recorded formed a pattern. Ten core elements of Simplicity seemed to emerge.
These elements aren’t trademarked by Apple or anyone else. They belong to all of us. Apple may be the world’s greatest practitioner of Simplicity, but there’s room for everyone to play.
If you’re prepared to do battle with Complexity, you’ll have no trouble finding a fight. Chances are, you’re surrounded by it. Unless you work in the rarest of environments, Complexity lives inside your organization’s hierarchy, its goals, and probably most of your colleagues as well. If your company is ever to fail, you can be sure it won’t be the fault of Simplicity—it will be the result of its absence.
In each chapter of this book, I will focus on one core element of Simplicity and show you how Steve Jobs’s and Apple’s deep devotion to it led them to act as they did. By book’s end, you’ll understand how all these elements fit together, and you’ll be armed with a powerful weapon to move your business forward.
Just understand that Simplicity is more than a goal—it’s a skill. To successfully leverage its power, you need to get good at it. That takes practice. And this is where things get a little tricky. Because the irony is, becoming skilled in Simplicity isn’t that simple. You can’t just learn it; you need to make it second nature.
As important, you must understand that Simplicity is not a smorgasbord from which you can pick and choose at whim. You buy the whole thing or you buy none of it. Because if your understanding or skills are incomplete, you’ll be no match for Complexity, which knows every trick in the book.
Steve Jobs was waiting in the conference room on the other side of the building, and I imagined he wanted to kill me.
It wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t done anything. I’d simply resigned from one of the most coveted jobs in advertising—creative director at Apple’s ad agency in Los Angeles—to take the job in New York as the agency creative director for Steve’s new computer company, NeXT.
Only problem was, nobody thought to have Steve interview me before I was hired, and apparently he wasn’t too pleased about that.
So my head was filled with nervous thoughts as I made the trek across the building to my first agency meeting with Steve. I wasn’t scared enough that my life flashed before me. However, I was scared enough that I was busy thinking of a contingency plan in case this meeting fulfilled its potential for disaster.
My new agency was the creatively acclaimed Ammirati & Puris, which was well known and admired for its work on BMW. It was Ralph Ammirati himself who welcomed me on the scene and gave me the heads-up about his little faux pas with Steve. He was sure we would get past this glitch, but his confidence only made me figure he had a good replacement creative director in mind. Certainly many would have jumped at the opportunity. Steve Jobs was no longer at Apple, but his fame and charisma were perfectly intact.
I hadn’t worked with Steve before, but I did feel a connection. My mentor and boss on Apple back in LA was Steve Hayden, the man responsible for introducing the Macintosh computer when he worked at the ad agency Chiat/Day. He was the author of Apple’s “1984″ commercial, the spot that turned the Super Bowl into a grand advertising event and is thought by many to be the greatest commercial ever made. I’d heard many stories from Hayden about working with Steve Jobs, and now I would be having those adventures firsthand. Assuming I survived the next hour.
2. Think Small
3. Think Minimal
4. Think Motion
5. Think Iconic
7. Think Casual
8. Think Human
9. Think Skeptic
10. Think War
part five of ‘Insanely Simple’ appears here tomorrow