Forget fireworks, simplicity is the gateway to success

26 May 2017

  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • New thinking

By: Alicia Tan, Managing Editor, ADMA

Businesses often make the mistake in thinking that if they brought in the big guns or went all out it will guarantee instant success. While it’s true that we should always think ‘big’, that doesn’t necessarily mean going over the top and overcomplicating your strategies and tactics. The concept of going back to basics and simplifying processes and designs has been pioneered by none other than Apple after its 1997 resurrection.

Ken Segall, is a former ad agency creative director at Apple, and has worked alongside Steve Jobs for 12 years. He will be in town next week to speak at World Business Forum Sydney (WOBI) on how organisations can leverage the power of simplicity. Here, Segall shares with us his views on what simplicity means in business and how to get everyone in your organisation on board.

As a creative, what are your thoughts on creativity in a data-driven marketing world? Do you think both creativity and data can co-exist harmoniously?
Absolutely, the two must exist harmoniously, and therein lies the challenge to those who wish to leverage the power of simplicity. In writing my most recent book, I spent time with more than 40 business leaders around the world who have put simplicity to work. A great many of them went into depth on this very topic—of course they observe data, but understand its limitations. They believe that emotional considerations are at least as important. Experts all, they had confidence in their own experience, so are willing to overrule data when instinct tells them otherwise. In other words, they rule with both head and heart. Steve Jobs is a terrific example of someone who achieved extraordinary success while keeping data “in its place.” He believed that creativity was the most powerful weapon Apple owned. 

You talk a lot about ‘simplicity’ and how it paves the way to success. Can you elaborate on what this ‘simplicity’ means and where this approach sits in a business?
While simplicity is easy to see, it is difficult to create. In fact, it’s even difficult to define. That’s because it can be applied to virtually every part of a business — innovation, product design, marketing, internal processes, packaging, retail design, etc. So, when I talk about simplicity, I’m really talking about the ability to look at every part of a business through a lens of simplicity. Do customers clearly understand what the company stands for? Do products align with the company’s mission? Are employees motivated and energized because they understand the mission? Does the website present a clear path toward purchase, or does it confuse by trying to do too much? Does the company’s culture put a value on simplicity? And so on. When simplicity is encouraged and rewarded in a business, it shapes the way employees think and interact, and it colors decisions. Simplicity is about clarity and focus—two things that are critical across all industries.
How do you go about managing clients who give you a complicated brief or expect an elaborate outcome?
Well, nobody said this was going to be easy! In my opinion, relationships are the true driver of business. We’re all human beings, and it’s difficult for clients to take great leaps or risks, or take an action that may not be supported by data, unless they have trust in you. The most brilliant strategy on earth, or the most amazing ad campaign, has zero value unless the client buys it. The bottom line is, you need people skills to manage clients who make things too complicated. You must create a series of successes before you earn the right to say “trust me.” But you can help build your credibility by becoming a champion of simplicity. Share examples of companies that have scored big wins with simple briefs, and point out the dangers of complicated ones. Again, I find a great example in Steve Jobs’s Apple. The goals were incredibly high, but the ideas and philosophies that guided the company’s efforts were surprisingly simple.

How can mid-level staff get management buy-in to ‘simplicity’?
Simplicity is that is a most democratic power. It can be embraced and implemented by anyone at any time. It’s helpful if the move to simplify is started by management, which can in effect “simplify by decree.” Mid-level employees don’t have this luxury, and so they must “simplify by example.” Inside some companies, it’s possible create an island of simplicity in within a work group. Simplicity can be contagious, in that the success of one group is often emulated in others. When the drive to simplify starts with mid-level staff, the means of getting management on board is not unlike the way you would get a client on board. You present it with passion, because it reflects your deep belief. Personally, I cling to the belief that intelligent people will always respond positively to a conversation that contrasts the power of simplicity vs. the dangers of complexity.

Ken Segall WOBI Sydney

Catch Ken Segall at World Business Forum Sydney on 31 May - 1 June.

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