Insanely Simple: Book review

This book, by one of Apple's ad-agency creatives, explores the company's Steve Jobs-driven philosophy of keeping things simple. If you crave eye-witness Apple anecdotes, there's plenty on offer here.

There's a certain type of modern business book that thinks you won't be able to recognise the one- or two-word concept it's trying to sell you unless that concept is always presented with a capital letter. Ken Segall's Insanely Simple is that kind of book. The concept Segall wants to sell you: Simplicity. The evil villain that's trying to thwart Our Hero: Complexity. And there's your book.


If that doesn't sound like much for a book, you'd be right. The rest of the book is an autobiographical tour through the details of how to keep things simple — or rather, Simple — and the business benefits of doing so. That said, a more descriptive subtitle might have been "My Life with Steve Jobs", or something similar. For Segall (as the Segall-designed cover tells us) is the man who named the iMac. That is, he's an ad agency creative director who spent 10 long years on the NeXT and Apple accounts. His examples of how to keep things Simple and avoid Complexity are all drawn from those 10 years. It's a decent marketing strategy, certainly: many people who would be happy to Simplify their lives by not reading a book about The Simple Stick might nonetheless buy the book for the Jobs content.

This is not, however, a "tell-all-about-the-jerk" book. It's very quickly apparent that Segall liked and admired Jobs, and is entirely able to justify any apparently poor behaviour on Jobs' part. Certainly, the Jobs/Apple connection is very strong, as you can easily tell just from the table of contents. Every chapter is entitled "Think" [something]: brutal, "phrasal", iconic — and, inevitably, different (Segal was in the room when Craig Tanimoto coined the phrase that became Apple's battle cry). To be fair, none is entitled "Think Steve".

Jobs, as he appears here, was more goal-oriented than socially dysfunctional, and keeping all non-essentials stripped away has long been a valid strategy for effective management.

And in fact, Segall is not wrong. Jobs, as he appears here, was more goal-oriented than socially dysfunctional, and keeping all non-essentials stripped away has long been a valid strategy for effective management. If that means kicking the invited but unneeded ninth person out of an eight-person meeting, so be it. That doesn't make Jobs a bad guy. No, we know our villain: at Microsoft, where the marketing team couldn't find anyone who could state the company's values, "Complexity…saw its opening and went for it." Meanwhile, over at Intel, "Complexity has a nasty habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

Jobs is also not always right in this book. His original name for the iMac? MacMan. When "iMac" is proposed, with the note that the initial "i" can be carried on to other products, he hates it. But he listens. When it's proposed again, along with a new batch of ideas, he still doesn't love it — but he asks his team, and tests how it looks silkscreened onto a model, and finally approves it.

Despite the cuteness of Simplicity and Complexity as warring superheroes, there's a lot that's interesting in this book. Understanding how and why certain campaigns came about and succeeded or failed is valuable: it's always better to learn from others' mistakes rather than one's own. That said, I still wish I could hear the one-line summary that Mad Men's Roger Sterling would give it.

Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success
By Ken Segall
240 pages
ISBN: 978-0-670-92119-5


You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All