Jun 16

Heroes of simplicity: Ron Johnson

My new book, Think Simple, will be published on June 7th. While my previous book focused on the power of simplicity as practiced by Steve Jobs and Apple, the new one goes further. I sought out more than 40 practitioners of simplicity in a range of companies around the world. Here’s one of them…

ronjohnsonIf you follow Apple, you probably know the Ron Johnson story. He’s the guy Steve Jobs brought in when he decided that Apple needed a retail presence.

Steve was impressed with Ron’s resume. After all, Ron was the guy who transformed Target from a fledgling department store to something more contemporary. He turned it into a cooler place to shop.

So Ron put together a team and worked with Steve to develop the Apple Store concept, and he credits the success of the stores to the power of simplicity. I spent a morning with Ron talking about the days when the Apple Store was just a germ of an idea.

He explained that a clear mission is an essential element of simplicity, and so the first order of business was creating a mission for the Apple Stores. It was wonderfully stark: “Enhance lives.”

That’s what Apple products were about, and the Apple Stores would be the place where customers come face-to-face with the Apple brand.

When a company has a simple mission, decisions come easy. In developing the Apple Stores, every major decision was evaluated against the mission—from the size and location of the stores, to kind of people who were hired. If an idea wasn’t consistent with the mission, it got nixed.

At this point, Ron has a most interesting perspective on simplicity. Besides guiding Target and the Apple Stores to success, this year he launched a new fast-growing company called Enjoy—which is being propelled by its own simple mission (cleverly hidden in its name). He’s also able to talk about the dangers of complexity, given his less-than-satisfying experience as CEO of JCPenney.

Ron has a terrific story to tell—with appearances by the light of simplicity and the dark cloud of complexity.

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  • Daniel

    Look forward to reading your new book. Why are there two versions of the book in the iBooks Store? (at least in the German iBooks Store)

  • synthmeister

    Interesting, because I would never think of “Enhance lives” as a “mission” since it is too broad–any company or organization would probably be able to embrace that “mission.” And it has zero focus because it is a truism.
    To me, Apple stores were about exposing the greatest number of people to experience Apple products in the best possible environment. Steve Jobs finally realized that NO ONE else was going to do this, no matter how awesome Apple products were–not Best Buy, not Circuit City, not CompUSA and definitely not Sears or the IT crowd. Even the few excellent locally owned Apple stores were not going to do this because they were typically located in out-of-the-way places with extremely limited walk-up traffic. Apple focused on high foot-traffic/high income locations using a very modest footprint to keeps costs down.
    When they started their retail initiative, I firmly believed it was NOT a mistake because I knew no one else would ever push Apple hard, on a retail level in the kind of high rent locations Apple chose. However, I never in my wildest dreams thought those retail stores would be so incredibly successful.

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