What’s it about?

From Hyundai to Whole Foods, Think Simple (2020) demonstrates how simplicity is the key to success in business. Ken Segall, an Apple insider, teaches us how to deal with complexity and focus on what matters most in a strong organization.

About the author

Ken Segall is the author of the New York Times best-seller Insanely Simple. Working with Steve Jobs as Apple’s creative director for twelve years, he led the brand’s Think Different campaign, and named the iMac, leading to the legendary i-branding for products like the iPod and the iPad.

Simplicity isn’t about being simple; it’s about giving the image of being simple:

We can’t help but complicate things. Our lives get increasingly complicated as a species as we explore, invent, and grow. We complicate things by creating convoluted bureaucracy and perplexing appliance instructions.

We love simplicity, which is ironic. We want things that are simple to use. We are drawn to persons who can express themselves clearly. We admire businesses that have a clear, straightforward brand. So, why do we make things so complicated? Simplicity is difficult to achieve.

Take, for example, an Apple MacBook. Although it appears to be an essential piece of technology, it has a great deal of intricacy. Most MacBook owners would be stumped if you asked them to explain the complex technology that powers their computers. Consider Ben & Jerry’s ice cream as an alternative. Ice cream can’t be that difficult, can it? What appears to be a simple, delightful treat – complete with significant bits of cookie dough, candies, and swirls – is the result of a lengthy procedure.

In reality, traditional ice cream technology could only handle small ingredients when the company initially started. On the other hand, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield developed a means to get those enormous pieces and substantial swirls into their hallmark ice cream flavors. Then they had to figure out how to mass-produce it — huge chunks and all – to make things even harder.

Simplicity, then, isn’t simple. Companies, on the other hand, benefit from the appearance of simplicity, which Foolproof presents. Foolproof is a rapidly expanding digital design studio situated in the United Kingdom. They create websites for large technology businesses, airlines, banks, and media outlets. And what sets them different is their ability to make the user experience as simple as possible.

They achieve this by aiming for “flow,” a term credited to Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The user is in a flow state when he walks around a website without realizing what he’s doing because everything is so intuitive.

This implies that tasks like booking flights, which can be a chore, become incredibly straightforward and enjoyable. And, although Foolproof’s site designers worked so hard to accomplish this simplicity, the user will be completely unaware of it.

Simplicity, then, appears simple on the outside but is incredibly difficult to master on the inside.

All excellent businesses have a core mission that defines them:

Everything you might want is only a mouse click away. That’s what Amazon told the world when it revolutionized e-commerce. And it was with that phrase – just one click away – that Amazon discovered its corporate mission.

Not every business has a defined mission. If you ask a gathering of individuals what Hewlett Packard or Dell represent, you’ll probably get a hundred different answers. Great companies stand out in part because their beliefs are fundamental and robust.

A company’s mission statement provides a straightforward, persuasive reason for everything it does. By explicitly stating this, a company may eliminate any unnecessary details and get to the heart of what it’s all about.

Few company missions are as well-defined and straightforward as Apple’s. After an eleven-year absence, Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, at a time when the firm was in decline. Jobs restored the company’s vitality in a short period.

How did he do it? He established a new corporate mission in a presentation he presented alongside then-CEO Gil Amelio even before regaining power. The words “Mission: develop relevant, engaging solutions that customers can only get from Apple” were written on a slide behind him.

To this day, Apple’s mission is the same. Apple would have been just another PC manufacturer without Jobs’ defining vision, which gave the business its primary purpose. Instead, it’s a ground-breaking consumer electronics corporation with global acclaim.

Another significant turning point for Apple was the establishment of the Apple Store. From the way its staff responded to how its stores appeared, this was an opportunity for Apple to demonstrate its mission in a public space.

Ron Johnson, the man hired to build the Apple Store, continued Jobs’ fundamental aim. For the retail establishments, he coined the phrase “Enrich Lives.” The objective of Apple Stores was to enrich the lives of everyone who came in, much as Apple’s purpose was to produce products that were centered on people’s needs. Customers could anticipate enthusiastic assistance in-store, and Genius Bar help desks have always attracted competent personnel.

A solid corporate culture aids in unification and simplification:

Assume you’re in the middle of a job interview. Your potential boss takes you on a tour of the facility. She motions to a wall display with photos of staff participating in various silly team-building activities. “That’s simply how we do things around here,” she laughs.

She’s referring to the company’s culture. It’s what gives a company its personality. It defines everything, from how employees treat one other to how emails are written, beyond team-building events.

Solid company culture is an integral part of any highly successful firm.

For starters, organizational culture rapidly informs employees about how things are going at work. Take, for example, Whole Foods Market, an international health-food retailer based in the United States. Their culture instills in their personnel a strong sense of purpose. And the goal is to highlight the health advantages of whole foods, with a lowercase w, for individuals, communities, and the environment. People who work at Whole Foods are usually passionate about their mission, which shows in their work.

On the other hand, a strong culture can signal employees that they aren’t the perfect match for a company. Apple, for example, hired John Browett as their new senior vice president of retail in 2012. He was the former CEO of the British retailer Dixons. Browett didn’t immediately grasp Apple’s entire culture. Browett, rather than “enriching lives,” sought to maximize short-term earnings by firing employees, reducing hours, and reducing promotions. He didn’t fit in with the company’s culture. Within nine months, he was out the door.

A company’s culture may unify a diverse workforce in addition to defining the standard for personnel. Electronic Arts, a prominent video game developer based in the United States, has done just that. Video game artists and developers, for example, were not naturally drawn to each other. Therefore the company needed to bring them together. Electronic Arts’ response has been to build a culture where everyone feels like they are part of the same team, working toward the same objectives.

As a result, a strong culture may be a fantastic simplifying tool: it can help develop a clear, consistent set of ideals while also uniting a company under one banner.

The CEO of a company is critical to achieving simplicity:

Consider Steve Jobs in his trademark ensemble of a black turtleneck, blue trousers, and New Balance sneakers. Jobs’ hands-on leadership style was also a defining feature of his. He was constantly walking about Apple’s offices, checking up on various divisions and providing input.

It’s worth noting that he wasn’t micromanaging anything. Yes, he was eager to offer his thoughts, but another person’s strong viewpoint quickly convinced him. He stimulated debate and pushed teams further by getting down to the nitty-gritty while hearing ideas straight from the experts on the ground.

Indeed, Jobs’ style of leadership was crucial to Apple’s success – and its minimalism.

When it came to decision-making, Steve Jobs’ approach allowed Apple to cut through layers of bureaucracy. Jobs would drop in on the source department rather than having an idea pass through various levels of approval. He was able to collaborate openly as a result of this. He could either approve the proposal, encourage employees to generate more significant developments in line with the company’s objective, or listen to employees. From the curves of a new laptop to the feel of a button, he’d be interested in the tiniest detail.

Because of this hands-on, informal leadership approach, the company’s goal was not diluted. Because Steve Jobs was so close to the activity, it was easier for Apple to stick to its brilliantly straightforward objective.

Another proponent of this type of leadership is Kip Tindell, co-founder and former CEO of The Container Store. He established The Container Store, an American retailer specializing in storage solutions, with open collaboration in mind from the ground up. Rather than a highly organized decision-making process, he has fostered informal, open communication among all firm parts.

Employees at The Container Store believe that their opinions are respected as a result of this openness. Tindell has created an environment where people feel free to express themselves and share fresh ideas with him.

What’s more, guess what? The company has been able to capitalize on being productive and inventive by eliminating the countless layers of approval and allowing people to communicate their thoughts to the CEO.

The key to building a robust and simple organization is to hire the appropriate people:

As we’ve learned, a successful organization must be united around a clear and precise company objective. To accomplish this, everyone must sing from the same hymn sheet — that is, everyone must share the company’s ethos. That’s why putting together the appropriate staff is so crucial for a company’s success.

It may come as a surprise, but the top organizations frequently use unique recruiting strategies. This is because the tried-and-true CV-sifting method does not always work.

Consider StubHub, online ticket exchange and resale service based in the United States. It had a reasonably standard hiring process at first. Recruiters would then recommend the top three individuals to StubHub co-founder Jeff Fluhr after a screening step. After that, he’d pick his favorite.

Today, Fluhr believes that strategy is precisely the incorrect one. He’s not just searching for a perfect CV with all of the necessary experience. Instead, he wants someone who exhibits curiosity, innovation, and a strong work ethic while still being a good “cultural fit.” These are characteristics that cannot be discovered just by searching through CVs. That’s why, like Jeff Fluhr, entrepreneurs adopt a more holistic approach to hiring, evaluating each new prospect as a whole person.

Kip Tindell, who was mentioned in the previous paragraph, likewise believes in a unique approach to hiring. He, like Jeff Fluhr, does not put all of his attention on a solid CV. In reality, he feels two critical characteristics are unlikely to be found in a CV. These are attributes such as judgment and honesty, which he puts above traditional qualities such as intelligence and technical skill.

As a result, The Container Store conducts numerous interviews to guarantee that it hires the best people for the job. Candidates are frequently subjected to seven or eight interviews!

Another unusual hiring strategy used by The Container Store is to enlist the support of current employees. Rather than using a standard HR department, the company invites employees to watch for potential hiring. Staff employees are encouraged to suggest smart, passionate friends, meet someone fascinating on a night out, or even have a distant family who is a good fit for The Container Store.

No matter how the process is carried out, what counts most is that the right individuals are brought on board.

The key to successful simplicity is a solid and consistent brand:

We have an intuitive understanding of what a company’s “brand” is. It’s the sum of our feelings regarding that company. This is influenced by the company’s product or service, its marketing activities, and what individuals we trust say about it.

Jobs, for example, scoffed at the suggestion that Apple’s high-tech phone industry would stagnate without a low-cost choice. Apple, he thought, was a high-end brand that appealed to folks who believed attractive, inventive things were worth the money. He didn’t want to sully the brand by providing a low-cost phone.

Kofola, a Czech carbonated beverage manufacturer, is another example of a great, essential brand. Kofola, a Communist-era alternative to Coca-Cola and Pepsi, struggled to compete with major Western brands after the country’s government fell in 1989.

But then its new owner, Kostas Samaras, wanted to revamp the Kofola drink entirely around the concept of nostalgia – specifically, nostalgia for the good old days when Kofola was consumed with the family behind the Iron Curtain. The soft drink experienced newfound success as a result of this essential, clean makeover.

Another aspect of establishing a recognizable brand is ensuring that it seems consistent across all of its locations. Rather than responding to local tastes and inclinations, a successful brand should appear consistent throughout the world.

Take, for example, the major vehicle manufacturers. It makes no difference if you’re in Tokyo, Paris, or London; a Ferrari is the exact luxury vehicle worldwide. This approach can be applied to a wide range of goods and services.

There’s a common thread that runs across all truly excellent businesses. All of them have a simple, enticing mark that gleams as brightly as a diamond. And it is from this simplicity that comes global recognition, and with it, exponential growth.

Simplicity can lead to genuine affection and admiration for a business:

Steve Jobs once said he wanted to create technology that people might “fall in love with.” He desired to create an emotional bond with Apple customers. He realized he’d have to prioritize simplicity to do this.

After all, we prefer simplicity to complexity, which is why people might fall in love with a brand if it is simple. A company that provides convenience and ease will win supporters. The brand’s supporters will then become committed to it.

Consider how devoted Apple customers are: they’ll buy one Apple laptop after another and find it difficult to break the habit.

Uber is an excellent example of a firm that has developed strong client loyalty. It has quickly garnered a global following by providing an easy, convenient alternative to taxis in over three hundred cities. Naturally, any successful firm attracts competitors who promise to offer less expensive, more efficient options. However, because of Uber’s ease of use and the great experiences its drivers have had, the majority of consumers have remained loyal. Uber has built a loyal following.

Even firms that are unlikely to elicit “love” from their clients might strengthen their bonds with them. This includes companies that provide relatively unglamorous services, such as television providers and banks.

Take those TV providers, for example. As the name implies, DirecTV Latin America offers television programming in Latin America. CEO Bruce Churchill admits that his business is unlikely to inspire feelings of love. After all, many consumers are dissatisfied with their cable company. Instead, he wants to increase the number of “net promoters,” or customers who speak favorably about the brand. “Net detractors,” on the other hand, are individuals who speak negatively about the corporation. This CEO is betting on more likes than dislikes by providing straightforward, effective service.

It’s difficult to “love” a bank, and the Bank of Melbourne is in a similar situation. However, CEO Scott Turner feels that there are ways to create genuine connections with clients, such as providing support when establishing a firm, which creates an emotional bond. After all, a bank can help you start investing for a home or a comfortable retirement. Why can’t a bank, on the other hand, generate something akin to, well, love?

Many outstanding business executives use intuition:

Sometimes you get a feeling. Whatever other people say, you know something is either going to work or fail miserably. That is intuition’s power.

You might assume that listening to your sixth sense in the corporate world is a bad idea, especially when everything appears to be focused on numbers. But you’d be mistaken. From Steve Jobs to Rupert Murdoch, great corporate executives have frequently followed their instincts.

In business, it’s critical to follow your heart. For example, if Rupert Murdoch had listened to financial analysts, he would not have been able to get the NFL broadcasting rights for Fox Sports.

Fox had never televised live sports before. They had agreed to pay $1.6 billion for the rights over a four-year period, which was considered a massive figure at the time. Murdoch was dubbed “mad” by many in finance and the media, who told him he’d never been able to recoup his losses.

Murdoch, on the other hand, paid little attention to them and went with his gut instinct. The rest, as they say, is history: Fox Sports’ NFL coverage has been an enormous success. Today, $1.6 billion appears to be a bargain.

However, going with your gut as a business leader does not imply rejecting statistics and hard facts. It just entails being able to fill in the gaps in the data.

Take, for example, Jeff Fluhr, co-founder of StubHub, whom we’ve already met. Since becoming an entrepreneur, he has worked in web-based businesses. He has website visitor statistics, which allow him to dig deeper into data and analyze how users react to various marketing methods. But, rather than depending just on the data, he consults his instincts. He puts his hunches to the test in his marketing plans, then examines the data to see how customers reacted to his changes.

Solid financial research and analytics might be valuable tools for increasing your comprehension if you don’t have a business instinct akin to Steve Jobs’. However, to create game-changing company concepts, you’ll need to rely on your intuition, your gut instinct about whether a new idea or product will succeed.

It’s a crucial aspect of simplifying: your gut feeling about a revolutionary new product concept can be worth more than reams of financial information. “If you want to differentiate yourself or move forward, you have to rely on your instincts,” says Apple’s Ron Johnson.That’s quite an improvement!