Ken Segall and Sri Lankan Delusions

Ken Segall in Sri Lanka was an event organized by SLASSCOM (Sri Lanka Association for Software and Services Companies), the primary IT/BPO business association in the country. On the official event website, advertisements, promotional material, tickets and even when reporting the event afterwards, SLASSCOM introduced the speaker as “Former Creative Director of Apple Inc.”

Ken Segall in Sri Lanka
Banner image from the event website where Ken Segall is introduced as the Former Creative Director of Apple Inc.

Before seeing the ads for the event I had no idea who Ken Segall was. Such obscurity is rather unusual, considering that—judging by his title—he had to have played a role as important as Jony Ive’s at Apple. I looked him up, found his book Insanely Simple, bought it and read it. I listened to his talks at TEDx and the Computer History Museum.

Thus, when a client offered us tickets to the Ken Segall in Sri Lanka CXO keynote, we could make an informed decision not to attend.

Ken Segall at Apple?

Ken Segall never worked at Apple.

And he never claims to, in the book. He was a Creative Director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, the agency handling Apple’s advertising. Yes, he worked closely with Steve Jobs on marketing Apple products and has done good work, but to portray him as Apple’s Creative Director doesn’t do any good to him or his audience. He wasn’t even the Creative Director for Apple at TBWA: he was one among several, led by the legendary Lee Clow.

Ticket to Ken Segall CXO Keynote in Sri Lanka
Photo from the event, © SLASSCOM

Yet according to our simple research, the vast majority of people attending the event believed that he was indeed the Creative Director at Apple. None of them were any better informed after the event.

People at SLASSCOM are not idiots. Why would they run such a disingenuous campaign? And why would Ken Segall—who must have reviewed and approved the marketing materials for the event—not correct them? We can only speculate.

Insanely Oversimplified

Ken Segall’s views about Apple are from the perspective of an advertising guy outside the company. That doesn’t mean his ideas are necessarily wrong or misleading—it simply means that they’re severely limited. They provide us with only a one-dimensional caricature of a complex organisation, of which the author is not a part.

Naturally, central to this limited picture is the charismatic visionary Steve Jobs, whom the author unashamedly venerates. Perhaps ensnared by Steve’s famous reality distortion field, Segall summarily dismisses obvious contradictions.

For example, in the first chapter of Insanely Simple, titled “Think Brutal,” in which Steve’s uncompromising honesty is discussed at length, his protracted rejection of his biological daughter gets just one indifferent sentence. Steve’s disgusting treatment of Woz, and those thousands of other times when he was nothing but Machiavellian, get no mention at all.

Besides, neither Ken Segall nor his colleagues at TBWA seem particularly “brutally honest” in their dealings with Steve. They’re often portrayed as walking on eggshells, pandering to Steve’s demands, deferring to his judgement regardless of their personal opinions. That raises the question of whether the principles he espouses in Insanely Simple are really universal or merely Jobsian.

Ken Segall showing his book to the audience
Photo from the event, © SLASSCOM

The book has other shortcomings, but they’re only incidental to this discussion. Here is what really matters: Ken Segall knows as much about Apple as your ad guy knows about your company. Your ad guy has very little idea about how your team works or how your product gets made. It’s unfair to expect more from Ken Segall.

Insanely Simple is an extended eulogy to Steve Jobs from an adoring fan. It’s well worth reading to learn more about the crazy genius of Steve Jobs. But if you’re really interested to learn about “what sets Apple apart from other technology companies and what makes Apple stand out in a complicated world” and you think this is a reliable source, try searching for “Ive” in the book.

You won’t find him there.

Ken Segall in India
Et tu, India?

Apple Is a _____ Company

Here’s a little test: what single word encapsulates Apple, “simple” or “design”?

Apple is the world’s best design company, and that’s what sets it apart from the rest. Steve Jobs was obsessed with good design. Steve Wozniak is an insanely good designer in his domain. Jonathan Ive . . . well, he’s Jonathan Ive.

Yes, simplicity is often intrinsic to good design, and a healthy beating from the “simplicity stick” might well be what is needed to fix a design error, but it represents just one dimension of a many-faceted process. Read Ken Segall’s book, but when you do, replace “simple” with “design”—it will make the whole thing much more meaningful.

So, forget simple. Design.