Ken Segall (http://kensegall.com)
Closely working with Steve Jobs for both NexT and Apple, for over 12 years, Ken Segall is credited for the person who put the “i” in iMac and led the awarded legendary campaign “Think Different”, and is the author of “Insanely Simple”, that is about how simplicity influenced on Apple to innovate and develop. Masaaki Hasegawa, student of Master in Visual Media, had a chance to explore the secrets behind the concept of “Insanely Simple”.
MH: Thank you for giving us to have this interview with you. First of all, let us know more about you. How did you come to work in advertising industry?
KS: It’s a long story! Before I went to college, I took an aptitude test that suggested I had an aptitude for advertising. I chose advertising as my major, but moved to a different major in my very first year. It wasn’t until seven years after I graduated college, after trying my best to make it as a musician, that a friend suggested that I should look into advertising. So I took a job in the production department at Chiat/Day in Los Angeles. Only then did I discover that there was such a thing as a creative department, and that I might be a good copywriter. I took two night courses to put together a portfolio of ads and moved to New York to get my first job as a writer. It’s ironic that after all those years, I ended up in the very profession that my college aptitude test suggested.
MH: You are known as the person who created the “Think different” campaign for the Apple.. It is very impressive because this TV advertisement did not try to appeal through products or to persuade consumers to buy, but stimulated people to make action, and change their behavior. It seems that you applied the concept of “Think different” to this campaign itself too. How did you get this idea?
KS: The “Think different” campaign was born of the efforts of a small, talented group of people. Steve Jobs had just returned to Apple as the “interim CEO” and the company was in dire financial condition. There would be no new computers for at least six months, so the first order of business was to put together a brand campaign that would tell the world that the spirit of Apple was alive and well. To us, the spirit of Apple was based in creativity. Never “one of the crowd,” Apple was for people who didn’t think like everybody else. That led to the idea of a campaign that celebrated people who changed the world because they had the passion and the drive to “think different” — to push the human race forward. We (the agency and Steve Jobs) believed that you can tell a lot about a person by the people they admire, and that was the principle of this campaign. By showing the world who Apple admires, we would say a lot about the company itself.
MH: Did people who were working for Apple that time, except for Steve Jobs, easily accept the idea of “Think Different”?
KS: Absolutely. The campaign was as much for the people who worked inside Apple as it was for the company’s customers. When Steve Jobs returned, he told us that he was thrilled to find that so many of Apple’s talented people had stuck around during the years when Apple seemed to be floundering. They still believed in what the company stood for and they had remained in their jobs in the hope that one day it would regain its momentum. When the “Think different” campaign launched, Steve sent out a companywide email explaining the campaign. He asked everyone — no matter what their position — to “think different” about their jobs and find new ways to do things better. There was an unmistakable feeling inside Apple that it was on the road to recovery, and thinking different was a big part of that.
MH: This ad was made when Apple was facing a severe situation. Did this campaign and ads also change the people in Apple who were working with you?
KS: We only worked with a small group of people inside Apple — Steve Jobs and the people he trusted to be involved in the marketing. Everyone in this group believed in Steve’s vision and was eager to be part of the effort to turn things around. I don’t think that the campaign necessarily “changed” them, but it helped all of us focus on the mission. It became a theme for us all.
MH: People thought differently from others when they were children, but they came to think similar to others through education. A lot of companies may think differently but become similar to other companies as they get bigger.
KS: Very true. It is my belief that “processes” are to blame. Every company is a startup at some point, and at that time they behave very differently. They create processes in order to “institutionalize” success. They want to be able to repeat their successes in the future, and ensure that they can continue to succeed while employees come and go. The problem is, as companies get bigger, processes tend to take over. Some people are actually paid just to make sure that the processes run smoothly. That’s a big problem when creativity is a part of your business, because the process should never become more important than the idea flowing through it. Apple didn’t have that problem. Steve Jobs refused to act like a big company. He didn’t think that great ideas were born at big companies, so he snuffed out big-company behaviors whenever he encountered them. In the areas of innovation and marketing, he purposefully kept things very small.
MH: You mentioned that it is difficult for large companies to change the corporate culture inside because the existence of complex systems, and thus the CEO is the only person who can change it. In that respect, how Steve Jobs is different from other CEOs?
KS: Steve was very, very different from most CEOs. He refused to relegate responsibility when it came to the things he was passionate about — and marketing was one of those things. I’ve dealt with quite a few CEOs during my advertising career, but none of them even came close to the level of involvement that Steve demanded. He wasn’t dictatorial about it. That is, he didn’t bark commands and have all of us run off to do his bidding. He simply wanted to be a part of the marketing team, and be involved in the process. There were quite a few healthy debates. Sometimes Steve would get his way and sometimes he wouldn’t. He had respect for the opinions of talented people (though he did often engage in energetic debate). What made Steve really different was that he found time for things that other CEOs did not. He was passionate about so many details, and doing things “the right way.” I have no idea how he found the time, because when I was working with him he was CEO of both Apple and Pixar — either one of which would have consumed an ordinary man. Plus, he insisted on taking time out for his family. He had that kind of inexhaustible energy and commitment.
MH: Please let me know about your recent book, “Think Simple.” How did you come to believe that thinking simpler is important?
KS: It wasn’t something that hit me out of the blue. It was something I noticed over a long period of time working with Steve Jobs on NeXT and Apple. And it was something that was reinforced by my time working with more complicated companies, like Intel and Dell. I came to understand that Steve Jobs had this love of simplicity that affected his thinking on so many different levels. He would see everything through this “lens of simplicity,” and then apply his common sense to it. He struck down the things that were more complicated, whether they were part of a product’s design or part of the company’s organization. His way of looking at things was refreshing and pure, and he refused to compromise for anyone. It was when complexities started to interfere with Apple’s ability to move forward that he became the “rough” Steve Jobs that we’ve all heard about. It wasn’t that he was a mean person — he had an extreme passion for what he was building.
MH: I totally agree with your the idea of Think Simple. However, a lot of people tend to think in a complicated way. What do you think what makes them not think simple?
KS: That’s the big question, isn’t it. In my opinion, human nature works for and against simplicity. As human beings, we have an instinctive preference for simpler things. However, as human beings working in a business environment, we also love to compete and prove that we’re talented and smart. So I don’t hold individuals responsible for making things more complicated as much as I blame organizations for creating structures that involve too many people. By creating a complicated process, they invite more people into the process — which results in a classic case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” In such circumstances, it’s difficult to keep things simple.
MH: Think Simple may require you to face the substance of things and to accept everything.
KS: For many people, this is scary because it is sometimes necessary to see what they do not want to see and face. A. I think that’s where leadership comes in. Not to denigrate other people’s talents, but business can’t be a free-for-all. Steve Jobs was a leader who had a vision. He led with strength and forced people to see the “truth.” Though it was difficult to work with him at times, it was also refreshing because he was asking you to put all of your effort into creating something great — and not worry about the things that distract other companies. Steve didn’t hide anything. He made you see the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might make you feel.
MH: Think Simple may be a courageous decision for many people. For example, Think Brutal is not easy for many people for fear of being hated by others. To be this way, it would be necessary that all the members in the team share the idea that they work to achieve a certain goal?
KS: You are correct when you point out that people don’t naturally like to be “brutal” to one another. Most of us want to get stuff done, but also be kind and respectful to our colleagues. So when I talk about being brutal, I mean it in special sense. I only mean that honesty is a vital part of moving forward. Steve Jobs was obviously very good at getting people to focus on a single goal, and it’s important for any organization to have that kind of unity. Opinions will always differ, but agreement can be reached on the greater vision and the guiding values. At as a foundation for all the work, people should all understand the importance and value of simplicity. It will help them become more productive and happier in their work.
MH: Steve Jobs said “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.” And Mark Zuckerberg said “The biggest risk is not taking any risks.” Your idea “Think War” is close to taking risk in order to achieve goals?
KS: My “Think War” idea is actually more about not taking risk. It’s about knowing that the forces of complexity are always lurking in the shadows, and that you should take as few chances as possible — calling upon your most powerful weapons to ensure that your ideas emerge from the end of the process unscathed. But yes, at a higher level, I do agree that great things are never accomplished without putting yourself (or your company) at some degree of risk. Again, this is one of the things that made Steve Jobs special. He was willing to “bet the company” on new products that came with no guarantee of success. He followed his instincts.
MH: It is often the case that the people in large corporations lack a sense of purpose as one company and they focus on what is before them, such as promotion, pride, income and dignity. Think Simple sounds like sweeping all those things aside and finding what the most important is.
KS: I think that’s true. If a company is good at practicing simplicity, everyone in the organization understands why they are doing what they are doing. They understand the mission and their role in that mission. But every company has a different culture and a different mission, so I try not to make blanket recommendations. I do believe that the love of simplicity can be a powerful part of any culture, and if it isn’t there already, it is well worth cultivating. Pursuing simplicity doesn’t mean putting aside other concerns — it means seeing everything through this lens of simplicity. If something seems too complicated, or lacking in common sense, it shouldn’t be ignored. Someone has to call it to others’ attention, or to try to fix it themselves.
MH: I think that the idea of “Think Simple” is not to think less, but think more about the core and essence of the things. For who have not read your book, would you please give me some hints to think simple?
KS: You are correct. Thinking simple is definitely not about thinking less. In fact, it’s usually much harder to distill one’s thoughts and efforts into something that registers quickly and clearly. This is what Steve Jobs was referring to when he talked about hard part of the process — “peeling away the layers of the onion” to get to the purest form of the idea. This takes a lot of thought and a lot of discipline. If I were to give out any hints, I’d start with what might be the most important one: rely on your common sense. Most of us can tell when ideas are being cluttered, or a creative idea is being whittled down into something mediocre. It’s our ability to keep ideas on track, and defend against the dark forces of complexity, that allows us to achieve simpler, more focused results. Equally important is our ability to minimize. This means not trying to do too many things at once, or to offer too many choices, or to accept an organization with unnecessary complexities. Understanding the importance of minimizing allows one to create a better organization, better products and services, and better communications.
MH: Thank you for taking your time to share your great ideas and experiences. We will share this interview with students from all over the world.
KS: It is my pleasure! I’m happy to talk about these things with anyone, anytime. I can always be reached through the Contact form on my blog. Thank you, and keep flying the flag of simplicity!