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Ken Segall

Ken Segall

Bits of Wisdom from a Conversation with Ken Segall, “The Man Who Put the ‘i’ in Apple,” Eller Lecture, March 4, 2013

By Paul Tumarkin, Marketing Manager
UA External Relations 

Last night I went to hear Ken Segall speak at the Eller College of Management. Ken, an ad exec, worked closely with Steve Jobs for over 12 years, originated the iMac name, and helped develop the Think different campaign.

The audience was filled, a smattering of undergraduate and graduate students, community members, faculty and staff. Ken is a soft-spoken guy, very approachable. And wise.

After decades in the computer industry working with the greatest minds of the field, Ken’s got some wisdom. He said, “Only when I worked at other companies like Dell, Intel and IBM did I learn that there was something wrong with the rest of the world.” Cheap shot? Nope, just an observation. He saw the other guys being overly democratic in their decision-making and lacking focus. Apple, on the other hand, was doing things right in terms of setting its priorities and pursuing the company’s goals with absolute focus. They were moving ahead decisively, instead of getting bogged down in committees and watering down their vision to please too many people.

Part of all their success was due to the fact that Apple only had one person ultimately to please: Steve Jobs. But sometimes even Steve was wrong. (No way! Way.) When Apple was coming out with its  game-changing machine that would take computers from plain beige boxes into the world of designed, colorful machines, Steve called the team in and told them that they needed a name for this thing. He said that he had a name he loved, but if they could beat it, he was willing to listen. Steve’s grand idea? The “MacMan.” (Genius? Not so much.) But the team went to work and came up with “iMac.” It took a while for Steve to come around to it, but he started using it and it stuck.

And only after implementation did it grow from idea to genius status with the iBook, iPhone, iTunes, etc.

And to finish out, I love quotes. They stand alone and can house great wisdom. And they make the quoter look smart. So, to encapsulate a few of the greatest lessons of the night, here are a few gems, totally out of context.

“When you achieve simplicity, it makes people like you more.” (See examples: Apple products; McDonald’s coffee, any size for $1; the Forever postage stamp.)

“Simplicity never fails. Because it’s not a trend. It’s been around forever. It’s part of human wiring.”

“Complexity is alive and well and is always there to muck things up.”

“Being simple isn’t simple. It takes an incredible amount of work.”

“Simplicity = Brains + Common Sense”

“If you want to make a dent in this world, you have to be 10 times what it was before.” –Steve Jobs

Principles to remember:

  1. Think minimal. Minimize the hierarchy of the organization. Apple always functioned like a startup: no committees, one final decision-maker. Apple’s most powerful weapon was small groups of smart people.
  2. Minimize the product line. Dell has 42 laptop models. HP has 49 laptop models. Apple has 6.
  3. Minimize the words. Keep it simple. Shed all complexity. The iPod product tag reads, “A thousand songs in your pocket.” Leonardo Da Vinci said, “One should use common words to explain uncommon things.”

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

“Simplicity is the ultimate creative weapon. Because the world is complicated, simple things stand out.”

For further reading:

  • You can follow Ken Segall on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ksegall.
  • He also has a blog at www.scoopertino.com, “an imaginary news organization devoted to ferreting out the most relevant stories in the world of Apple, whether or not they actually occurred.”