In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death and Apple’s surging marketshare, books about both Apple and the Steve Jobs legacy have flooded the market. Some like Walter Isaacson’s intimate look at the life of Steve Jobs offer a more personal take on Apple while others work from a product-centric point of view. Ken Segall’s book Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success out later this month from Penguin, straddles both worlds. Segall, a longtime ad man, worked with Jobs for over a decade as well as working in marketing for IBM, Intel and Dell, putting him a unique position to see what makes Apple different. He says simplicity is at the core of everything Apple does and that simplicity can be a powerful tool for anyone looking to refine their business.
In this book, each chapter has a “think” title, an homage to Apple’s iconic “Think Different” campaign. Personal anecdotes of the author’s experiences with Steve Jobs illustrate the principles being defined and add interest for all of those are curious about what it was like to work with the great man. But the point of this book isn’t to eulogize Jobs, it is to use the principles he espoused to hone your own business. Many of what are referred to as his quirks are actually sound business sense, such as his penchant for keeping meetings restricted to only essential personnel. In fact, if there’s anything that the reader learns about Steve Jobs after reading this book, it’s that he could be ruthless in meetings especially if he thought someone was doing a big company-style formal presentation. Jobs was legendarily temperamental but Segall chronicles the late-night phone calls and angry exchanges with both respect and affection.
Apple offers fewer options then many of its competitors, creating a limited and yet highly desired menu of technology solutions. The focus is on benefits not specs and on ideas rather then process. For years Apple’s ads emphasized the company culture and the idea that Apple devotees saw themselves as members of a small group of rebellious creative types. These days with so many more Apple users that approach has been shelved in favor of ads that showcase the versatility and capabilities of the products without getting bogged down in technical specifics. Instead of marketing some products to businesses and others to consumers, Apple pitches all products to all groups simultaneously, a strategy that is simplicity itself. Jobs had a monomaniacal focus on design. Not every businessperson can, or should, be that obsessed and stressed, but there are many lessons to learn from Jobs about how to tune out the distractions and focus on the basics of creating the best product or service possible.
For Apple’s hordes of faithful product junkies there’s much to love here including plenty of references to the non-Steve years when Apple pushed out bland boxy computers with names like Performa and Quadra. Hearing how skeptics scoffed at the concept of the Apple store, the glassy minimalist temple where the gadget hordes converge daily, is a bit like hearing a favorite story in which the hero triumphs.