A Book Essay by David Shepherd
My reviews are exclusively to bring advice and inspiration to small business owners and entrepreneurs.
Is it then fair to use Steve Jobs, father of what became the world's most valuable company, as a case study?
My answer is an unequivocal, "Yes," because the point of Insanely Simple, Ken Segall's excellent book, is that Jobs never gave up running Apple in precisely the way you should run your small company. He rooted around in the details, and imposed his will at such seemingly mundane levels, that other Fortune 500 CEOs would have thought he was wasting his time. Yet their companies pale in comparison.
We have, of course, seen endless analysis of the Jobsian micromanagement style, but Segall attacks it from a different, and far more relevant (to you) perspective. Jobs, he insists, who was famous for predicting that products would be "insanely great," knew that such products could only emerge from a company culture that was insanely simple, or at least never gave up trying to be.
Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drive's Apple's Success, is a terrific book for entrepreneurs, one that earned our "Instant 4-Star" rating, meaning that virtually every small business owner in America should read and study this well-written book. It has been named a finalist for our 2012 Best Small Business Book of the year.
Segall is an advertising executive who has served as creative director for IBM, Dell, Intel, and BMW. He also worked closely with Steve Jobs for more than a decade, close enough to have his share of stories about midnight calls and sudden eruptions. Segall's humor is refreshing as he retells some riveting stories, and his survival strategies, such as knowing when to "…get out of the line of fire."
What Segall writes about is Jobs's obsession with simplicity—an obsession that I believe is more important to the small business than any other. But as an entrepreneur, you should heed what Segall makes apparent on page after page; simplicity is not easy. In most cases, it is the opposite of easy.
As Youngme Moon teaches us in her incredible book, Different: Escaping The Competitive Herd (an entreBOOKS 5-Star* "must read") simplicity requires eliminating benefits, something abhorrent to most marketers. The fear to simplify, is why Dell was at one point offering 18 models of laptops, each with an array of possible configurations. At the same time, an Apple customer had little more to do than decide between a large screen or small.
Speaking of small, Jobs understood that small correlates to simple in a variety of ways. Perhaps he understood the mathematics of factorials, or the physics of entropy (both described in my 8 Steps book) or perhaps it was just gut feel. But for Jobs, even one extraneous person at a meeting sewed the seeds of future complexity in the form of additional e-mails, additional invitations, and additional CYA. He considered this so threatening that he was known to stop in mid-sentence when he identified someone in a meeting whose role he did not know...and ask them to leave!
While Jobs may have expressed these feelings less charmingly than most, he is not alone in his sentiment. Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric writes in his book, Winning, of how he believes curtness serves all parties well, as opposed to expending time and effort on protecting the feelings of others. As Segall writes, "Blunt is simplicity. Meandering is complexity."
He also warns that, "There is no 'almost' when it comes to making things simple… Simplicity is an all or nothing proposition. No picking or choosing allowed. If you can only muster up the energy to buy into a part of it, you're just going to hurt yourself trying."
Simpler, is not easier for you, the entrepreneur, but it will make life easier for your customer and make it easier for them to buy from you! If making things simpler for you feels easier, you've probably not yet found the simplest solution and your search must go on. In the course of your search, as always, you will find that the ultimate simplicity comes only after saying "No!" to far more things than you say "Yes" to. Segall quotes Jobs as saying that, "Innovation is saying no to a thousand things."
If you're of a certain age (as am I) you may recall Three Dog Night singing about how the number one was the loneliest number. It is also the simplest the number. Two, after all, is 100% greater than one. "The farther away you get from one," Segall writes, "the more complex things get." That is why at the time when cell phones were chocked full of buttons that had to be pressed in various combinations, Jobs told his disbelieving engineers exactly how many buttons the iPhone would have: One.
This number is incredibly important. I can envision an entire book being written on it as it relates to your business. It is more than just a number, it is an entire philosophy. Once simplified to one, a company can escape the herd (thanks, Ms. Moon!) and the battle for features and benefits that bog down others. It can, instead, focus on the emotions that its products evoke as Apple did in it's "Think Different" campaign with the use of such human icons as Einstein and King. It can paint its complex competitors (hello, Microsoft!) as the evil "other," thus inspiring its evangelical base.
Writes Segall" "Product naming is the ultimate exercise in simplicity. It requires one to capture in a single word, possibly two, the essence of a product or company—and in some cases, create a personality for it."
This is critical to the small business owner because you simply can't communicate complexity. You don't have the budget or resources, and there is simply too much "noise" in the marketplace for you to break through with anything other than a single, laser-like focus. Complexity is what will tempt you (devil like?) to create multiple products, multiple layers, multiple memberships, etc. But you don't get to sit prospective clients down for four hours with flip charts and spreadsheets until they "get it." They aren't going to get it unless it is dead simple.
Complexity is the killer of even the smallest business and rooting out complexity is hard work. Segall warns that, "This means erring on the side of overkill." He says this in a chapter entitled "Think War," in which he insists that the battle against complexity is a war, and a never-ending one. "So it must become your nature never to relent… There is no nicking the arm of complexity—you need to blow it away."
I believe Insanely Simple will pass the test of time and predict it will become an entreBOOKS 5-Star Must Read. But even if it doesn't, Ken Segall's legacy is assured. You see, it was his idea to put that little 'i" in front of words like pod, phone, and pad. With tens of millions of iPods, iPhones, and iPads around the world, and millions more to come, Ken Segall is literally, he who gave us 'i."
You can connect with Ken Segal at: