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Insanely Simple

The Obsession that Drives Apple's Success

by Ken Segall

(London Times Review)

A warning. Do not give this book to any middle manager with delusions of brilliance. Cheat, lie, steal if necessary, but keep it out of the hands of anyone useless above you. A blueprint for running a company the Steve Jobs way, it reveals methods that would be catastrophic in mediocre hands.

Insanely Simple's author, Ken Segall, worked on and off with Jobs for decades as a creative director on various marketing campaigns. He watched Jobs's sometimes brutal methods at work, and lived. Segall argues that Jobs's drive for simplicity permeated every area of his business style.

This obsession has been well documented where it touched Jobs's technological innovations; Apple products since Jobs's return in 1997 to the company he founded when he was 21 are characterised by extreme simplicity. For proof, I need look no farther than the mastery of the iPad by both my three-year-old and her techno-phobic granny. Jobs himself, before his untimely death from pancreatic cancer, was vocal and messianic about his desire to keep technology easy to use.

Segall distils all of this into a formula for managing like Jobs. His famously abrupt style is “brutal honesty”, necessary to keep things simple: no office politics, soft-soaping or bush beating. Meetings are brief and sparsely attended. Top-heavy processes are the enemy, as are the trappings of big, unwieldy corporate structures.

Segall sets up a Manichean conflict in his account between Simplicity and Complexity; complete with upper-case emphasis. Simplicity is defined by Segall as the 'lovechild of two of the most powerful forces in business: Brains and Common Sense'.

The quest for Simplicity and the urge to defeat its 'evil twin Complexity', is posited as a quasireligious one, which fits neatly with the beatification of Steve Jobs as a tech-saint. But the Jobs who emerges in these pages was temperamental and difficult to work with. Apple employees dreaded being told they had lost sight of the quest for Simplicity - they called it being hit with the 'Simple Stick'.

Jobs despised stupidity, and his reaction to it is described as a 'rotating turret'. He swivelled to fix on someone, before destroying them with a rapid fire of vicious invective.

The Jobs of Insanely Simple was rude and occasionally truculent. He was demanding, relentlessly tough, and in certain moments of passion, outright scary. Jobs's salvation was one overriding fact: he was hugely successful. Segall is excellent on decoding the reasons for this success. Simplicity worked for Jobs because he was smart, and he employed smart people. The idea of lesser mortals employing some of his methods is horrifying. Nevertheless, Insanely Simple should be required reading for anyone interested in management and marketing who can wield its strictures responsibly.

Unfortunately, Insanely Simple is, as a read, Annoyingly Complicated. The capital letters poison the script and the structure is unhelpful. Ten chapters with titles echoing Apple's 'think different' campaign purport to illuminate different elements of the quest for simplicity. More seriously, the same incidents from Jobs's career crop up in different chapters to illustrate Segall's points, which creates a disjointed and sometimes repetitive narrative. Complexity has claimed this book as its own. Jobs, one suspects, would have beaten Segall's manuscript ferociously with his Simple Stick before it got anywhere near the printers.

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