Book Review: Insanely Simple by Ken Segall
June 4, 2012 by Bernard Leong
If you want to read a first person account on how Apple has designed, implemented and executed their marketing and advertising campaigns, Insanely Simple: That Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall offers a glimpse on how the concept of simplicity drives Apple as a company.
As the person who was part of the team who came up with the famous “Think Different” TV advertisement and putting the letter “i” behind all Apple products, Ken Segall organizes Steve Job’s obsession into 10 simple principles.
You should not be surprised that this book holds a very opinionated view as compared to the two books written by journalists narrating the story of Steve Jobs and Apple: Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs” biography or Adam Lashinsky’s “Inside Apple”.
The book sets up the concept of simplicity and Apple’s obsession has formed the bedrock of what distinguishes the company against her competitors. The anecdotes give a bird’s eye view on how Apple is structured, the way it innovates and how it speaks to its customers. Throughout the book, the author contrasts how Apple works in contrast with its competitors, for example, IBM, Intel, Dell and Microsoft.
It uses examples like the Think Different Ad and the famous Mac vs PC TV ads to illustrate the ten principles, which I’ll summarize below:
1. Think Brutal: In Segall’s words, “Blunt is Simplicity. Meandering is Complexity.” Most of the stories in this chapter talks about how Steve Jobs organized his meetings with very small teams and denied access to anyone if they add to the head count of the meeting or have no form of contribution to the discussion.
2. Think Small: Apple utilized the power of small groups of people to achieve the maximum results and produce great products. He puts it this way: “The quality of work resulting from a project is inversely proportional to the number of people involved in the project.” He explains how some decisions made by big companies took a long time with committees or people passing the buck to each other. In fact, he stressed that if the decision maker is involved in that process, the quality of the work from that small team will have greater impact.
3. Think Minimal: A relatively simple chapter on how Apple streamlined their products and constrained the form factor such that proliferation is difficult. Ken Segall argued that the proliferation and giving consumers more choice actually confuses them. Here’s an interesting anecdote: Mark Parker, president and CEO of Nike, sought the advice of Steve Jobs, who told him that Nike built great products but also a lot of crap which should be gotten rid of. It seems that he has dispensed the same advice later to Larry Page who became the CEO of Google last year.
4. Think Motion: Using Leonard Bernstein’s quote, To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time. The author added two more elements to how Apple adopted this principle by aiming realistically high and never stop moving.
5. Think Iconic: This chapter is dedicated to the back story of the “Think Different” campaign and provided Steve Jobs’ view of marketing and in his words, “To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. And so we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us …”
Steve Job’s narration of the famous Apple “Think Different” advertisement
7. Think Casual: This chapter presents short notes on how Apple and Dell executives look at presentations. The former embraces a casual approach and Steve Jobs just wants the presenter to be straightforward and get to the main principles, while the latter wants a formal presentation that creates a barrier to conversation and engagement between the brand and the consumers.
8. Think Human: You might have read this in many articles about Steve Jobs and Apple. It’s the part about not relying on focus groups but what you would to do with the product as a user. In fact, we have heard on many occasions, the people who designed the iPhone, hated how mobile phones work in the past, and built one that they would love to use.
9. Think Skeptic: The best way to summarize this chapter is to use a line from Steve Job’s 2005 commencement speech to Stanford, “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” The stories of how skeptics viewed the Apple retail stores when it first emerged and how the subsequent results defied expectations ring a bell.
10. Think War: The very last principle showed how Apple has a rich history of focusing on their objectives and zeroing in on specific competitors.
If you want an eye witness account on how Apple actually conducts it business, this is the book to read. Some of the anecdotes and comparisons with other brands will convey Apple’s unique perspective, which defies popular opinion. That’s why the book simply concludes with: “Think Different”.
Interview of Ken Segall on TechCrunch TV
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About The Author
Bernard Leong - Co-Founder
Dr Bernard Leong is currently in Vistaprint as a technology manager, where he manages an engineering team and builds new products for emerging markets. His former entrepreneurial stints include CTO and co-founder of Chalkboard where he has architected the platform for location based advertising across web and mobile, and also an early stage investor in Thymos Capital with Lunch Actually, Padlet and iHipo. His accolades include the Young Professional of the Year Award for the Singapore Computer Society 2010 and Outstanding Young Alumni for National University of Singapore 2007. His expertise includes technology and social media. Currently, Bernard also serves as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence with INSEAD Business School and taught courses in entrepreneurship in NTU.Read other posts by Bernard Leong