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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.

Is the idea of an impossible demand being that if even if you don't achieve the impossible you're at least going to get somewhere higher than normal?

Actually that was a point Robert Nason made at Telstra. Funny you should mention that. He said that, 'If you aim for incremental gains, it's kind of meaningless. People don't notice incremental gains.'

He talked about Steve Jobs and how he would aim for a wholesale change in a category, or whatever, and that's what people aimed for. They didn't aim for making something moderately better, they aimed for total change, and that's what people notice, I think. If your company's struggling, if you ramp it up 10% you're not really going to change anything. Nobody's really going to notice. You've got to do something dramatically different.

It's easy to see the changes from the outside and see they're common sense. Internally, it's a hell of a lot of work?

Yeah. Part of the problem is internal structure. That's another concept in the new book that I haven't told anyone yet, so this is brand new for you, but it's the idea that there really is no such thing as simplicity, which is a bizarre thing to say, but what there is is the perception of simplicity.

I think very few things we see in this world that are simple were easy to do. You can start with an iPhone and say it's easy to operate, but obviously years worth of research and all the stuff inside the phone, we can never understand it.

Even things you look at, like a website, that might be refreshingly simple, people probably agonised over it for months, and there are all kinds of arguments behind the scenes about what should go on what page versus the other.

It takes an awful lot of work to make things look simple, and I think that is the goal. The only thing that's really important in the end is whether it appears to be simple to the customer. It's a mistake to assume that's going to be easy because it's simple, so it's all the hard work that goes into it.

One of the examples I use often is the choices you see on webpages for laptop computers, if you look at these different companies. HP has 41 models and Dell has, I think, like 20-something, 24? Apple has three, but in truth Apple has configurability, so that you can create 40 models, but they make it appear simple. I think a company like HP or Dell could benefit from that by saying, for starters, 'We don't need X number of body styles. We don't need 120 of them. Let's cut it down to five and then let people build what they want out of that.'


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