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Interview: Ken Segall

Peter Roper | Feb. 24, 2016
This wide-ranging interview with Ken Segall covers the insights on simplicity discovered while researching his second book and his concept of ‘dual DNA’ that stops simplicity being the default way of doing business… plus his thoughts on post-Jobs Apple and the rumoured car.

Some general principles could be applied to any company, but I think there's a belief that big companies can't get simple, and they really can. There are quite a few of those examples in the book. Telstra being one. On the day I was to meet this guy, Robert Nason at Telstra, I had lunch with a friend of mine in Sydney. I told her about the book and that I was meeting with Telstra, and her response was, 'If you want your book to have any credibility do not include Telstra. I have this long list of grievances with them. I can't get them to fix anything. They're the worst.'

It was interesting because I didn't have to tell [Nason] about that conservation. He basically told me that that's what the company's problems had been, and that when he came aboard that's what he faced. This horrible lack of customer enthusiasm, stock price down and the company was just really, really spiralling. He told me all the things he's done to try to fix it, and a lot of them are simplification. It makes me feel good when I don't even use the word, and someone uses it on me. He started talking about the value of simplifying what they do in the customer's mind, and I didn't even feed him the word, so it was really good.

Things had just become too complicated for the customers and they weren't building any advocates because they were making life difficult. Rather than continue with their internal organisation the way it was, they empowered the people who were on the frontlines dealing with the customers, so that they could feed back directly to management, and they could address issues.

Some of it was very common sense kind of improvements, which is another thing with the book: common sense is the key to pretty much everything, and it's just incredible how many companies avoid acting on common sense, because there are always distractions and other concerns.

When I tell people about life in the world of Apple, that was the big difference. Steve Jobs was incredibly good at enforcing common sense, and the same issues would come up there. Steve would just say, 'No. You find a way to make that work. This is what we're doing.' He would never waiver from what the right thing was.

I find too many people in business are way too willing to compromise because of perceived issues that when you run your business the way Steve did, you don't let those issues deter you. You know what the right thing to do is, and you just do it. Sometimes you put impossible demands on people to do it, which is what he was very good at, but people find ways to make things work. That's why a guy like Steve Jobs got things done the way he did, and a lot of other companies struggle, I think.


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