Some Ideas are Overcomplicated
Steve Jobs, the now-deceased CEO of Apple Computers, was a notoriously difficult boss. Those who worked for Jobs were often subjected to harsh criticism, blatant challenges, and oftentimes were left stunned by his ambivalent nature. Jobs would steamroll over those whose ideas weren’t similar to his own. For most leaders, we could point to these behaviors and use them as reasons for corporate failure and employee washout. Of course, Jobs’ success at Apple is the opposite story. He was arguably one the most successful business leaders of all time.
There’s a unique story about one particular meeting where Jobs’ stubborn nature was challenged. When Apple was introducing the new-to-the-world iPad, the marketing teams were in a battle with Jobs. Like many new products, Jobs was thrilled with the iPad. Apple engineers and product development teams had created a unique and powerful tool that could potentially change personal digital devices. The features were tremendous, the details were outstanding. There were plenty of great aspects to champion and promote and Steve was salivating to pitch the iPad to the masses.
Apple’s marketing team, charged with introducing the product, wanted to focus on just one idea (function, trait, characteristic, etc.) per ad. The goal, they surmised, was to present the iPad as a device that centered on simplicity. Introducing too many concepts in each advertisement would complicate the message and stray from the core principle. Jobs disagreed and wanted each ad to promote 5 key benefits to make an overwhelming case for the product.
Back and forth they went — the marketing team produced their rationale, Jobs chided back without mercy. There was little hope of convincing Jobs that he was wrong and the marketing team was about to give in.
The Simple Power of an Idea
That’s when one astute member of the team tried one more approach. She took 5 sheets of paper – each representing one of the five characteristics that Jobs thought should be promoted. Crumpling the five individual sheets up into balls, she approached Jobs and explained that each one was an idea that was important.
Advertisements are all about communicating what’s important and so, to demonstrate the challenge, she asked Jobs to physically catch all five paper balls when she threw them to him. She tossed all five paper balls at once. His attention was focused on too many things at once — he failed to catch a single one.
She then tossed a single paper ball and he caught it with ease. Jobs immediately dropped his argument and the iPads were advertised with a single, core promotional feature in each ad. Steve’s confession was as simple as it was uncommon.
“Okay. You’re right”, he said.
The point of the story is not that Steve Jobs relented or that he admitted someone else had the right idea (although, some may think that’s unusual enough!). The point is that sometimes we try to oversell, over-state, and over-complicate our process. In sales, we often need to simplify in order to clarify the most important benefits of our product. When we attempt to tell every feature, we burden our clients with data.
What process can you simplify for your sales and marketing pitch? How can you bring greater clarity to your proposals and products? What can you cut out so that customers can cut through to the real value?