Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am

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Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success
by Ken Segall
Penguin/Portfolio

Apple stores around the globe boast bigger yearly attendances than Walt Disney Company's four biggest theme parks, Apple marketer Ken Segall claims in his new book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success. Despite criticism of conditions at its suicide-hit Chinese factories, Apple is widely seen as one of the world's most impressive companies.

Apple's secret is partly that it offers an attractively slim selection. 'Among Dell, HP, Acer, Samsung, and others, PC product lines are a masterpiece of confusion spanning several continents,' Segall writes.

In contrast, Apple offers a smattering of products including the iPad and iPod. What's more, Apple design is clean. The iPhone, for instance, is all streamlining: a slick mix of curves and glass.

According to Segall, who started working with late Apple boss Steve Jobs in 1985 and invented Apple's trademark 'i' prefix, the simplicity is anchored in clarity and frankness.

'In the coming months, I learned that what I had experienced was just the way it was with Steve,' Segall writes, recounting his early days.

'He was going to tell you what was on his mind, and he couldn't care less how you might feel about it.

'Few of us have the willingness or capacity to be this honest 100 per cent of the time. It's not that we're devious. It's just that in certain circumstances, we become discomfort averse. We might want to spare someone's feelings or avoid being the one to wreck the positive vibes in the room.

'These things were non-issues for Steve,' Segall recalls.

The no-nonsense Jobs set a template for company culture, insisting on simple meetings (no PowerPoint), simple product names (no rambling number strings), even simple dress. Start-up style casualness makes for creativity, Jobs reckoned.

Segall 'gets' the firm's inner workings because he contributed to its 'resurrection'. He helped Apple go from 'near death' in 1997 to the world's most valuable firm in 2011.

Apple's story will be studied in business schools for decades to come - probably by students using iPads, not textbooks, he writes.

His classic business manual is packed with sense but has two flaws. First, despite weighing in at 240 pages, it should have been leaner - about 150 pages, making it more Zen, more 'Steve', who liked whiteboard diagrams.

Second, Segall uses the cheap trick of capitalising key words, as in 'Blunt is Simplicity. Meandering is Complexity'.

Another gripe: Segall's weakness for the cliche 'perfect storm'. But a bonus is the descriptions of Jobs' castigations. Whenever an employee said something silly, first came the uncomfortable pause, Segall recounts.

'The offending comment would reverberate in the air, and it would seem as if the entire world went into slow motion as Steve's internal sensors fixed on the origin of the sound wave. You could almost hear the meshing of gears as Steve's 'turret' slowly turned towards the guilty party. Everyone knew what was coming - but was powerless to stop it,' writes Segall, an occasional target himself.

For one Dalek-style attack, Segall had to travel 12,000 kilometres to a Hawaiian paradise where the Jobs family was staying. Segall also took a Jobs attack over the phone. It was just as bad, Segall says.