Since Steve Jobs passed away I have spent a many hours reading about him and the Apple he created. I started, like most others just after he died in November with the official biography, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.
For the layperson, Isaacson’s biography is a good introduction to Jobs and tells the tale of his life. As a fanboy I’d heard most of it before so found the book a little shallow. I thought it was a shame that someone who had unrestricted access to Steve left so much on the table.
A better book for readers interested in Steve Jobs and the early history of the Mac is Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley. The book is a series of short stories written by Hertzfeld and other people involved with the creation of the Mac and it’s a wonderful account of how the Mac was made.
But a new book written by Ken Segall, called Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success, is a great read for anyone looking to infuse a little Apple magic in their own life or business.
Segall, an advertising executive who worked with Apple and Steve Jobs, got to see first-hand how Apple and other technology companies ran their businesses.
According to Segall, the key to Apple’s success is a strong desire to drive simplicity into everything it does. Segall says “every one of Apple’s revolutions was born of the company’s devotion to Simplicity. Each new device either created a new category or turned an existing category on its head – all because, as an old iMac ad put it, the technology was ‘simply amazing, and amazingly simple’.”
He devotes many paragraphs to comparing Apple and other large tech companies like Intel and Dell. For instance, Segall, comparing the way Apple and Intel make decisions, shares this anecdote:
“My Intel experience came as a shock, as I arrived at Intel’s agency fresh from the vastly simple world of Apple. During my time with Apple, the approval of an idea meant that the agency was cleared to start production. Steve Jobs trusted the agency to do its job.
“No such minimisation was evident in the world of Intel, as the approval of an idea was really just the first step on a long and winding road.”
“In fact, Intel didn’t even trust itself to make a decision – it set up an elaborate global system of focus groups to make doubly, triply sure it would create the best possible ad.”
While the book is biased in Apple’s favour, Segall does a good job at reminding the reader that sometimes even Steve Jobs made bad calls.
In one incident, Jobs and Lee Clow, of the advertising agency Chiat/ Day, were discussing an idea for an ad for a new iMac. Jobs didn’t like the ad that Clow had come up with because it devoted the whole time to describing only a single feature of the iMac. Jobs wanted the ad to cover four or five important features.
According to Segall, “Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad and crumpled them into five balls. ‘Here, Steve, catch’, said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back. ‘That’s a good ad’, said Lee. ‘Now catch this’, he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction.
“Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor. ‘That’s a bad ad’, said Lee.”
It was pretty convincing proof, Segall said, that “the more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember”.