Fighting Against Complexity – Simplicity Rules

Is it good for big companies to act like "big companies?"

Leaders focused on simplicity fight to keep complexity at bay. Ken Segall, former Creative Director for Steve Jobs, shares how Jobs fought to maintain simplicity when circumstances or people brought complexity.
My observation was that he had this obsession, this lens of simplicity through which he saw everything. What he was particularly good at was using his common sense to enforce the basic rules.

If you were in a room and someone said something that was going to make things more complicated, he would normally bat them down fairly quickly. Steve didn't want people to act like they were working in a big company, so whenever he noticed a big company behavior he would swat it down.

The same thing was true with us. He didn't want to work with a big agency. He wanted to work with a few smart guys. We'd bring him stuff and we'd talk about it over a table and not make fancy presentations and that kind of thing. I think it was a question of just keeping complexity at bay. When people proposed complicated ideas he would swat them down. When people behaved in a complicated manner he would offer them a correction.

I think that's what he did. He had these values when he was very, very young. I don't think he changed a lot. He just refused to give up those values. I think if you have an appreciation for simplicity and the power of simplicity, you just need to not lose sight of that because there are people all around you and circumstances around you that will always try to make you lose sight of that. I think the people who are just super passionate and driven are the ones who stay on the path and achieve at the level that Steve Jobs achieved.

His values really were burnt into their culture there, to the point where if people were ever presenting to him, they would always go in thinking, have they distilled it to its essence enough, is Steve going to do his thing to it. It became a bit of a thing, as I mentioned in my book, where people would say, "Well, Steve hit us with the simple stick," because he would look at something and say, "It's not simple enough. I don't know why you guys didn't see it, but instead of having A, B and C, just have A and make it strong."

That was the kind of thing that was rampant inside Apple and still is, where people, when they work on any project, when they organize themselves, when they invent, when they advertise, they're always looking to distill things to their essence and make them clearer and quicker for people. He wanted one idea. He wanted it spread throughout the entire engagement, the spectrum of possibilities. Every time a customer could touch the product or hear about it and they would hear or see a consistent message.

The word was so important. They were simple words or a simple sentence, like with iPod it was, "1000 songs in your pocket," and that was a revolutionary thought at the time because people weren't doing that, and it sort of said it all. They didn't have to get into technical specifications, how many gigabytes and it's got a click wheel and all that stuff. They just said, "1000 songs in your pocket." It attracted people's attention in a really simple way, and with that hook they could get them excited.

Ken Segall

Ken Segall was the Steve Jobs confidant to create the iconic marketing of Apple's products for over 12 years. He is the design and creativity expert who first named the iMac and initiated the i-frenzy, and author of New York Times Be...

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