observatory


6
Jun 16

Heroes of simplicity: Blue Man Group

My new book, Think Simple, will be published tomorrow. 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. Or, actually, three of them…

bmg

In searching for my heroes of simplicity, I hoped to find the most colorful stories. This one had more color than anticipated.

Blue Man Group was founded by Chris Wink, Phil Stanton and Matt Goldman. For those who aren’t familiar, BMG creates entertainment experiences. It’s hard to explain, but amazing to see. The show is all fun—combining music, performance art, electronics, strange instruments, audience participation and general mind-bending.

Blue Man Group started in 1987 as a three-man street act in New York City. Now they have permanent theaters in five U.S. cities and Berlin, and have performed for more than 30 million people around the world. Continue reading →


6
Jun 16

Has Apple lost its simplicity?

Last week, I wrote an article for The Guardian with the above title. It was a question, not a conclusion, and I tried to offer a thoughtful opinion. Sadly, The Guardian chose to give it a click-bait headline that contradicted my point of view. So, for the record, here is the complete article as originally intended.

 Four years ago, I wrote a book about Apple and the power of simplicity.

It was the result of my observation, having worked with Steve Jobs as his ad agency creative director in the Think different years, that Apple’s stellar growth was rooted in Steve’s love of simplicity.

This love—you might call it obsession—could be seen in Apple’s hardware, software, packaging, marketing, retail store design, even the company’s internal organization.

apple-ii-simplicity

Even back in the 70s, Apple was professing its love for simplicity

But that was four years ago.

Though Apple’s customers remain fiercely loyal, the natives are getting restless. A growing number of people are sensing that Tim Cook’s Apple isn’t as simple as Steve Jobs’s Apple. They see complexity in expanding product lines, confusing product names, and the products themselves.

Is this just perception, or is it reality? Has Apple developed a problem with simplicity? Or is it simply maturing as one should expect from a global company?

It’s difficult to be objective because Apple has become the world’s most overanalyzed company. It’s created passionate fans and passionate detractors.

Maybe I can help. My experience with Steve Jobs has led me to admire Apple—but I also believe in tough love. This is a good time to put emotions aside and take a cold, hard look at Apple’s current “state of simplicity.” Continue reading →


3
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. Continue reading →


26
May 16

Heroes of simplicity

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 looks outward. I spent time with more than 40 business leaders around the world to learn how they succeed through simplicity. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll feature a few of their stories. Starting with this one…

BENNINGTON, VT - JULY 3: Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, partners of a homemade ice cream stand, Ben & Jerry's, in Bennington, Vt. (Photo by Ted Dully/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Like many, I’ve been conscious of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for most of my life.

Based simply on what I read, heard and tasted, my image of Ben & Jerry’s was (1) really good ice cream with outrageous mix-in flavors, and (2) a company that was pretty “out there.” It seemed that Ben and Jerry were basically hippies with their own take on how a company should be run.

Remember, these were the guys who once found a new CEO by running a “Yo! I’m your new CEO!” essay contest.

Ben and Jerry made it a point to have fun, but they were also outspoken in their belief that companies should do good in the world. They now have a history of being involved in the community and taking stands on social issues—oftentimes controversial ones.

Almost 40 years after its founding, the Ben & Jerry’s brand is still crystal-clear, more than ten years after the company was purchased by the the giant Unilever. Continue reading →


11
May 16

The power of simplicity: Act II

Insanely Simple was an easy book for me to write.

Having worked as an ad guy in Steve Jobs’s world for many years, all I had to do was write about the things I saw going on around me.

Simplicity is a most powerful force. It was a key component of Steve’s thinking—and Apple’s every success.

That said, a lot of people who read the book or heard me speak about it, had a similar reaction. It went something like this: “Okay, so simplicity is good. Now what? How exactly do I get my company from here to there?”

Good question. And finding a good answer took a bit of work—about two years’ worth.

Coming June 7th — Think Simple: How Smart Leaders Defeat Complexity

think-simple_cover

To write Think Simple, I sought out CEOs and business leaders around the world who have built success by leveraging the power of simplicity. I interviewed more than forty—from businesses large and small, established and emerging, famous and under-the-radar. Though all had a unique point of view, they also shared some common ideas about the essential elements of a simpler business.

In Think Simple, Ron Johnson describes how a simple mission informed every major decision in developing the worldwide network of Apple Stores. Continue reading →


1
Apr 16

Of Steve Jobs and Andy Grove

grove-jobsLast week we lost another pioneer of technology with the passing of Andy Grove.

I can’t say I knew Andy well. I can only speak of him anecdotally, as I was part of his ad agency creative team for four years-plus in the early 2000s.

At that time, Andy was more of a spiritual adviser than a day-to-day leader. He was chairman, and Craig Barrett was CEO. Together, the two would sit in judgment at our creative presentations.

I was a bit star-struck when I first met Andy. Though I was always a Mac person (yes, even when I was making Intel ads), it was hard to look at Andy without marveling at the industry he helped spawn.

I had come to this job directly from my time at Apple’s agency in the Think different days, and I was in shock over how differently the two companies worked. Continue reading →


8
Feb 16

Super Bowl confidential: the secret story behind Apple’s “Lemmings”

This is the day I normally offer up some reviews on the Super Bowl commercials.

This year, I suffered a bit of writer’s block. I couldn’t find a fresh way to say things like “This one was funny,” “This one was an embarrassment” and “Damn you, advertisers, for taking away the surprise by releasing ads a week before the game.”

So I’m going to sit this one out. I’ll listen to your opinions instead.

However, I will not sit idly by! In honor of the Super Bowl I’m setting the time machine back to 1985, when Apple ran its notoriously awful Lemmings commercial on that year’s Super Bowl.

Just twelve months earlier, Apple had stunned the technology and advertising worlds with its famous 1984 commercial, and Lemmings was meant to carry on the blockbuster tradition.

Instead, it was a dud of extraordinary proportions.

But what exactly is the origin of Lemmings? It’s a story that’s never been told publicly, and it’s definitely not what you think. Join me now on this journey down memory lane…
Continue reading →


31
Dec 15

The great Apple advertising experiment

experiment-timRecently, Apple hired Tor Myhren as VP of Marketing Communications.

He comes from Grey, where he was the global chief creative officer and president of the NY office.

To borrow some new Star Wars terminology, he’s a big deal in advertising.

On the surface, Tor’s hiring is what it is. But if you look a bit deeper, there are all sorts of juicy implications.

To better appreciate, one must first understand how Apple’s marketing has worked in the past, Steve Jobs-style.

Steve kept things simple. Basically, he trusted the right people to do the right job. He had the ad agency (called TBWA\Chiat\Day in 1997, becoming Media Arts Lab later) and his in-house creative group. The two had separate and distinct responsibilities.

The agency developed the big ad campaigns and the in-house group owned apple.com, product packaging and themes/signage for the retail Apple Stores. Continue reading →


2
Dec 15

Distorting Apple news, Wall Street-style

watch-loveFollowing the first shopping weekend of the holiday season, the news for Apple was refreshingly positive.

One could even say it was surprisingly positive, given the negativity preceding about downward trending iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch sales.

The new news was that Apple was off to a record-breaking start. Not only was Apple Watch a hot item, but even the lowly iPad was showing new life.

But wait! Surely there is some gloom hiding in there somewhere.

Yesterday, I awoke to see a Fortune article by Philip Elmer-Dewitt with the click-bait-ish headline Top 12 Reasons People Gave Up On The Apple Watch. Ominous! Except that once you understand the nature of the study, it’s not ominous at all.

Elmer-Dewitt is talking about a new survey from Internet research firm Wristly. Having previously reported 97% Apple Watch satisfaction ratings, their new survey is “the first formal survey of dissatisfied customers.” Continue reading →


6
Nov 15

Bidding adieu to Steve Jobs, the movie

stevejobs2
Uh oh. Two weeks into its general release, Universal’s Steve Jobs movie has faded fast.

In what might be the ultimate insult, it has only barely outperformed the Ashton Kutcher Jobs movie.

Quite an unexpected end for a movie that had everything going for it: writing, acting, directing, marketing budget and lots of great reviews in the mainstream media.

Where did things go wrong?

Well, as much as we admire Steve Jobs, his vision and his accomplishments, there is such a thing as a Steve Jobs overdose. Continue reading →