Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m a huge fan of Apple. I mean, what company is so amazing, so brilliant, and so inspiring as Apple? Our library got a new book in recently about Apple, it tries to identify what sets Apple apart from the mediocre companies. Or in the lingo of the corporate world, what makes Apple great and other companies good. The title, Insanely Simple, is a pretty good giveaway for the main lesson of the book, and the subtitle is even more revealing. Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success. Apple is dedicated to simplicity. It goes for the simple answers when complexity could be more impressive. This dedication is personified in Steve Jobs who would not tolerate the big business model of complexity, redundancy, and inefficiency.

So each chapter of this book is titled “Think ______”, from Think Minimal to Think Human, obviously inspired by Apple’s motto, “Think Different” which is the title of the concluding chapter.

Rather than going through and explaining each chapter, which would result in a book review nearly as long as the book, I’m just going to go by memory and highlight the things I remember most.

The first chapter is called Think Brutal. Which, from all accounts I’ve read, Jobs was very good at doing. Sometimes, or a lot of times, in a business there is no room for emotional ploys or personal considerations. You are there to make a fantastic, hopefully perfect, product for your customers. If it doesn’t meet the standard, it is out. If a person isn’t fitting the role, isn’t meeting the needs, isn’t producing to the standard, they shouldn’t be there.

Chapter Three deals with minimalism, Think Minimal. I’m a huge fan of minimalism, from interior design to gadgets to my desk at work. Clutter isn’t good. Unnecessary items or additions need to be abandoned. What is needed and what will do it most efficiently? Everyone seems to think that more is better. Apple is successful because they don’t have 20+ laptop models for you to choose from. Their product line is minimalist, streamlined to only what products are really needed. There is so much in life that is just clutter, extra things that we don’t need and functions that don’t add value. Apple products stand in stark contrast. Look at the iPod Touch or iPhone. One button. That’s it. Steve Jobs was insistent that no other buttons were needed. A home button was all that is necessary for the user to have an intuitive experience.

Chapter Five, Think Iconic, reminded me of a TED video I watched once about this concentric circle imagery in business, or any aspect of life. So a concentric circle is just circles inside each other, like a bull’s eye target. A lot of businesses start with the outer circle, the “what.” The actual product: “We sell computers, look at this one, faster and cheaper than any others on the block.” But great companies and inspiring leaders start with the inner circle, the “why.” Why are you building computers? Why do I want to buy one? If you have a vision and if you share this vision with your company, your employees, your followers, your customers, they will be motivated to participate. They want to see the bigger picture, the way their purchase of this computer is part of a larger movement of purpose. Apple’s advertising was extremely successful in conveying their vision of a better world, a world where technology didn’t divide people but rather allowed them to connect in more meaningful ways, a world where beauty and excellence are sought after in everything, even computers. Apple isn’t just a computer product, it represents a movement towards a better, happier, more fulfilled life. Now whether having an Apple computer actually gives a person fulfilled is another subject, but this is their approach, they start with that inner circle of explaining why this is important to them, and therefore why it should be important to the rest of the world.

In Chapter Nine, Think Skeptic, Ken Segall told several stories of Apple, and other companies, apparently hitting these brick walls, either with advertising assignments or computer production/development. Steve Jobs would be told, “this can’t be done, sorry.” And he, being a great skeptic, would respond, “oh yeah? I know someone else who can get it done. Are you going to try again?” Then the person or group would give it another go, try harder, pull more strings, jump through some crazy hoops, and basically do the impossible to make the goal happen. So I liked this because it is easy to give up. It is easy to say, “oh, no one could do this, so I’m not going to try anymore” and we let ourselves be limited by these preconceived ideas of what can be done.

Chapter Ten, Think Different, is basically a review of the ideas presented through the book. All these different themes are components of the idea of simplicity. You must have all these qualities in order to achieve simplicity. I think people tend towards complexity, redundancy, and unnecessary additions because they aren’t confident enough in the essence of the product or idea they’re promoting. If the product were made simple, it would be obvious that it isn’t good enough. But if there are enough distractions, enough bells and whistles, then people will be impressed and not realize the fundamental flaws and weaknesses. So we need sound ideas. Good products. Then they will stand the test of simplicity. And this is what will make our world great. An unwavering commitment to being simply the best, not just good enough. The vision of excellence and desire for perfection. This is what will change the world.


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