Our Look at Insanely Simple: A Book Review

Why is Apple one of the most valuable companies on earth… and what can the education world learn from its unique culture? Insanely Simple is an insider’s look at Steve Jobs’ legendary business and marketing philosophy, summarized in one quote:

“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

– Steve Jobs, Businessweek, May 25, 1998

In Insanely Simple, Ken Segall, a long-time marketing professional who is personally responsible for the iconic “i” in the iMac name, describes the battle between two forces, Simplicity and Complexity. He paints this struggle in starkly religious and moral tones to emphasize the importance and pervasion of each philosophy in various business models.

Simplicity, he contends, is innately attractive to human beings, but is deceptively difficult to achieve. Complexity is far more pervasive and takes the form of focus groups, bloated and unnecessary meetings, overly formalized business structures, jargonized, meaningless product names, wordy advertising, lack of ongoing involvement from a project’s final approver, and many other insidious business practices that wear a semblance of sense, but in reality impede and sometimes even cripple an organization’s effectiveness.

To combat the dark forces of Complexity, Segall gives practical advice on how to achieve Simplicity in your organization. Though these directives are aimed at business groups, there is much that the education world can take from this list as well. Playing off Apple’s historic “Think different” campaign, Segall frames ten practices that can move an organization from Complexity to Simplicity:

  • Think Brutal: If someone doesn’t need to be in a meeting, remove them. Segall differentiates between being brutal and being brutally honest, and extols the latter as a key virtue in the pursuit of Simplicity.
  • Think Small: Again and again, Jobs demonstrated how small groups of smart people, as opposed to large groups of mediocre/unengaged people, will always achieve better results, faster. Resist the urge to pull in every resource in every situation and trust a carefully selected small group with your projects.
  • Think Minimal: Instead of proliferating models and versions to the point of confusion, whittle your offerings down to the smallest number that serves your audience well. Their choices will be easier and you can invest in making those specific products and services as excellent as possible.
  • Think Motion: Too-long project timelines stall and stagnate creativity, while too-short timelines short-circuit it. Strive for timelines that feel just a bit tight so everyone stays productive, engaged, and in motion.
  • Think Iconic: Sometimes a single image is all you need to make a big impact on your audience. Instead of cluttering your advertising with a plethora of ideas and pictures, consider a large focal image with a simple message. It’s easier for your prospects to remember, and it sets you apart.
  • Think Phrasal: In the world of marketing, less is more when it comes to words. The more benefits and features we try to cram into a small space, the less our prospects will remember. It’s easier to catch one ball than five thrown at once, and advertising works the same way. Give your prospects one message per piece and they’ll have a better chance of catching it.
  • Think Casual: Jobs vehemently opposed the intricately choreographed, rehearsed, formalized structures of the big business world, where a routine product briefing could consume an entire day (and hundreds of hours of work time). Instead, casual, conversant gatherings spark the best ideas and streamline whatever project is at hand.
  • Think Human: This is more than just adding pictures of people to your marketing collateral. Many of Apple’s most human ads don’t even feature a person (although others do). Thinking human means thinking emotionally and seeking a connection with the real people who are your audience… in Segall’s phrase, being true to your species.
  • Think Skeptic: If someone tells you your brilliant idea can’t work, be skeptical of that claim. Apple’s lawyers cautiously tried to shut down many a product name or marketing campaign that Jobs was convinced was perfect. When the conviction was strong, he occasionally ignored their advice and blazed forward anyways… usually with great success.
  • Think War: Apple demonstrated how having an enemy in the public space could actually be both lucrative and fun, as shown in their Mac vs. PC ad campaign, which is still popular today on YouTube. Done right, picking a target can rally the troops and form the basis for a focused and successful campaign.

Some of these directives sound easy, while others may feel almost impossible. Like many religions, Simplicity requires more than lip service from its devotees. Throughout his narrative, Segall emphasizes the cost of Simplicity; it can’t be pursued halfheartedly. Wielding the “Simple Stick” may cost you popularity, position, and even personal challenges as you swim upstream against Complexity. But the end result is worth it.

As both a marketing professional and bona fide human being, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s peppered with interesting stories about working with Jobs in Apple’s high-powered, high-stakes world, and I found Segall’s own common-sense marketing approach to be very valuable. On a personal level, Insanely Simple has caused me to reconsider some of my professional practices. Things as minor as trimming my emails to be more direct, looking for ways to simplify internal processes, and revisiting some of my presentation techniques are just a few of the ways I’ll be ousting Complexity.

Insanely Simple is not just a great how-to manual on boosting productivity and results; it’s also an engaging, inspiring, and eminently human read that will stay with me for a long time to come. I recommend it! What similar inspiring titles would you recommend?

About The Author
Amy Timco
Amy Timco is a Marketing Coordinator at TFS, serving as the team’s messaging strategist and wordsmith. She relishes crafting the creative branding and copy solutions that reflect the unique voice of each client.