Common sense is the genius of humanity: the voice of Jason Fried

Jason Fried, founder of Basecamp, a web applications company based in Chicago, has a philosophy to startup tech that is clear, articulate and makes complete sense. Fried pushes back on the cauldron of hype and bravado, highlighting extreme working hours, growth-at-all-costs, and the focus on fund raising as fundamentally flawed.

Why do we often refer to the pace of our workplace as ‘crazy’? I hear this all the time when talking with startups, the need for 12+ hour days, working into the early hours two nights a week, and over weekends too. While this has been accepted as the ‘new normal’ in many tech startup workplaces, Fried’s approach is to simply turn this on its head and debunk the myth.

And it’s not just what he says as a spectator, commentating from outside in. To stereotype Fried as just another dreamer would be a mistake. Fried’s company not only has millions of users for its products such as Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, and Backpack, but it has been profitable from day one, and chased customers, not investors – it remains privately funded by the founders.

Basecamp was founded as 37signals in 1999 by Jason Fried, Carlos Segura, and Ernest Kim as a web design company. David Hansson joined later, and was instrumental in developing the open source web application framework, Ruby on Rails.

The company was originally named after the 37 radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence. There are apparently billions of signals and sources of noise in space, but, according to Horowitz, there are 37 signals that remain unexplained.

Fried’s story is a personal entrepreneurial journey of creating answers to problems he had, then scaling the solutions into products to sell.  His first product came from the early days of having an AOL account and dial up modem. He was looking for software to organise his personal music collection, didn’t find anything that appealed, so set out to make his own.

He found FileMaker Pro, then made a music-organising database for himself, designing his own graphical interfaces around the standard database elements. He called it ‘Audiofile’ and uploading it to AOL, he asked people to pay $20 if they liked it – and they did!

And that was how Fried’s software startup journey started, the last twenty years have been based on that experience, and today Basecamp is the same thing – the team make products for themselves that they sell to other people. Luckily, there are a lot of people out there with the same kinds of problems they have!

So, looking at Fried’s blogs, published on https://m.signalvnoise.com/ and https://medium.com/@jasonfried, and his books Rework, Remote, Getting Real – and the forthcoming It doesn’t have to be crazy at work – what are the key takeaways from Fried’s philosophies? Here are some thoughts, based around his own words.

1.     Be a calm company

For many, ‘it’s crazy at work’ has become their normal. At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing workdays into a series of fleeting work moments, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.

It is no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore. Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers.

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less noise and far fewer things that induce ‘always-on’ anxiety. On-demand is for movies, not for work. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Tuesday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.

Not only does crazy not work, but its genesis – an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth – is equally corrupt. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down. It’s time to stop asking everyone to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego. It’s time to stop celebrating crazy. Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way

So build a startup that isn’t fuelled by all-nighter crunches, impossible promises, or manufactured busywork that lead to systemic anxiety. Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress – they’re just indicators of noise and movement.

No hair on fire. Build calm. As a tech company you’re supposed to be playing the hustle game. But Fried has Basecamp working at 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour, four-day weeks in the summer. The workplace is more like a library and less like a chaotic kitchen.

Basecamp focus on doing just a few things. It seems everyone else is trying to do new and innovative stuff. They are more focused on usefulness rather than innovation. We take our inspiration from things like the stapler and paper clip. It might not be as sexy and newsworthy, but it gives us the opportunity to be around for a long period of time.

2.     Love Mondays

It’s actually more Fridays I have a problem with. Fridays are often the anti-climax of the week, sometimes you didn’t get as much done as you hoped, your energy is spent, and frankly, you just want to put a lid on it.

Mondays, on the other hand, are always full of promise and freshness. Imagine all the great things this week has to offer! Imagine finally cracking the hard problem that cooked your noodle last week. Monday is the day of optimism, before reality pummels your spirit.

I think the key to enjoying Mondays is to ensure the weekend is spent doing everything but Monday-type stuff. No digging into the mountain of overdue emails, no ‘just checking in’. Let the weekend be a desert for work and Mondays will seem like an oasis.

Of course, that’s if you actually like what you do and who you do it with. If neither of those things are true, perhaps it’s time to ask yourself: Why are neither of those things true? Then take steps to remedy the situation once that question grows old (and before you do).

Turning Mondays into a delight rather than a dread is really all about moderation. Humans are designed for balance. The best recipe is a mix, not a single-ingredient sludge. Take the weekend to enjoy an exclusive plate of not-work, and wake up hungry for Monday’s fresh serving.

3.     Being tired isn’t a badge of honour

Many entrepreneurs brag about not sleeping, telling me about their 16-hour days, making it sound like hustle-at-all-costs is the only way. Rest be damned, they say , there’s an endless amount of work to do. People pulling 16-hour days on a regular basis are exhausted. They’re just too tired to notice that their work has suffered because of it.

I think this message is one of the most harmful in all of startup land. Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It’s a mark of stupidity. Scientists suggest that your ability to think declines on each successive day you sleep less than you naturally would. It doesn’t take long before the difference is telling.

And there’s more to not getting enough sleep than compromising your own health and creativity. It affects the people around you. When you’re short on sleep, you’re short on patience, less tolerant, less understanding. It’s harder to relate and to pay attention for sustained periods of time.

If the point of working long hours is to get more work done, and you care about the quality of your work, how can you justify sustained lack of sleep? The only people who try to do so are tired and not thinking straight.

One argument I hear a lot about working long hours is that when you’re just getting started, you have to give it everything you’ve got. I understand that feeling. And there’s certainly some truth to it. Yes, sometimes emergencies require extra hours and you need to make an extra push. That happens. And that’s OK, because the exhaustion is not sustained; it’s temporary. Such cases should be the exception, not the rule.

But people don’t stop working that way. We’re creatures of habit. The things you do when you start doing something tend to be the things you continue to do. If you work long hours at the beginning, and that’s all you know, you can easily condition yourself to think this is the only way to operate. I’ve seen so many entrepreneurs burn out following this pattern.

So it’s important to get a ton of sleep. You’ll start better, think better, and be a better person. Sleep is great for creativity and problem solving. Aren’t these the things you want more of, not less of, at work? Don’t you want to wake up with new solutions in your head rather than bags under your eyes?

In the long run, work is not more important than sleep. If you aren’t sure how important sleep is, think about this: You’ll die faster without sleep than you will without food. And, on balance, very few problems need to be solved at the 12th, 13th, 14th, or 15th hour of a workday. Nearly everything can wait until morning.

4.     Give it five minutes

You don’t have to be first or loudest with an opinion – as if being first means something. Wanting to be the first and loudest voice really means you are not thinking hard enough about the problem. The faster you react, the less you think. Not always, but often.

Man, give it five minutes. It’s great to have strong opinions and beliefs, but give ideas some time to set in. ‘Five minutes’ represents ‘think, not react’. Come into a discussion looking to learn, not prove something. There’s also a difference between asking questions and pushing back. Pushing back means you already think you know. Asking questions means you want to know. Ask more questions, to learn.

Learning to think first rather than react quick is tough. I still get hot sometimes when I shouldn’t. Dismissing other people’s ideas is so easy because it doesn’t involve any work. You can scoff at it. You can ignore it. That’s easy. The hard thing to do is think about it, let it marinate, explore it, mull it over, and try it. The right idea could start out life as the wrong idea.

So next time you hear something, or someone, talk, pitch or suggest an idea, give it five minutes. Think about it a little bit before pushing back, before saying it’s too hard or won’t work. Those things may be true, but there may be another truth in there too: It may be worth it.

So, four interesting perspectives from Fried that run counter to the hullabaloo we see in tech startup mantra on the street.

Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure, such is life. Is every day peachy? Of course not. But do your best so that on balance be calm, by choice, by practice. Be intentional about it. Make different decisions than the rest, don’t follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let them jump!

Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Keep things simple – here’s a beautiful way to put it: leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses its soul. It seems robotic.

Equally, chose fulfillment ahead of growth. Small is not just a stepping-stone. Small is a great destination itself. Build something of purpose, with intent. Growth can be a slow and steady climb. There is no hockey stick graph. I am turned off by the super rapid growth companies. It’s not stable. Just look at oak trees. They grow incredibly slowly, but they have the kind of solid foundation to withstand storms and other disasters. You need a solid core, which is why I’m such a big fan of consistent and steady growth.

I’ve not always been able to run myself by Fried’s philosophies, but for the last decade his common sense, people-centric, purpose and principles lead approach has been my yardstick. Go on, give it a go yourself.

Inspiring Jim Royle to leap off the sofa to become an entrepreneur…

We’ve been fans of The Royle Family in our house since it first landed on our TV screens in 1998, and crowded onto our own sofa to watch all the episodes from each of the three series and all the specials. The recent Christmas special, Barbara’s Old Ring, hit the mark as ever, and did terrific in the ratings, netting 7.7 million viewers on Christmas night, beating Doctor Who, Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife. My son James could probably go on Mastermind and answer any question from the 25 episodes aired, he could do a half decent job of reciting the entire collection of scripts.

On the surface, The Royle Family appears to be comedy narrative round the humdrum of ordinary Manchester family life, low on incident as it never leaves the front room sofa. It has the knack of capturing every nuance of character and dialogue made in the room, it’s as if viewers have simply dropped in to this family’s conversations and watch them channel-hop and discuss various everyday subjects. Despite the simplicity of the setting, it’s sharply scripted, with strong individual characters and an interwoven set of relationships, intelligent dialogue and memorable one-liners, up with the best British comedy writing.

The mundane intimacies and rhythms of family life have always been at the heart of the programme, and family patriarch, Jim Royle, is master of his space – unafraid to rearrange his nether regions, pick his nose or break wind. Jim’s oft delivered My Arse has become a national catchphrase. He’s sardonic, lazy and grumpy, frequently boorish, always laughing at his own jokes, and intent on announcing his lavatorial visits to all and sundry, but he’s impossible to dislike.

James Randolph ‘Jim’ Royle spends his days in his armchair watching the television and doing as little as possible. His stained stripy yellow T-shirt would run away in fright if it ever saw a washing machine. He makes sloths look hyperactive. Watching Jim’s lethargy and stupor, he’s the antithesis of the spirit and attitude of high growth, innovation-led entrepreneurs.

But just imagine if Jim decided to turn over a new leaf for the new year and made a bold commitment to dropping all his bad habits and starting afresh. What habits would he pick up from the likes of Jonathan Ive (designer of the iMac, iPod, iPhone and iPad), Jack Dorsey (creator of Twitter), Konstantin Novoselov (graphene pioneer) or Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, a web application company from Chicago? What makes these folks wired differently as pioneers, inspirational forward thinkers, that Jim could learn from?

Jonathan Ive is the English head of design at Apple, previously in the shadow of Steve Jobs, but in many ways the innovator behind many attributes of Apple products, and since October 2012 providing leadership and direction for ‘Human Interface’ software teams across Apple. Ive’s father was a silversmith, and he was interested in “drawing and making stuff” since he was 14. Design was always in his mind, but he was unsure about exactly what, since his interests were very broad – from furniture and jewellery to boats and cars. However, after meeting with various design experts he was drawn to product design. Discovering the Apple Mac during his later college years was a turning point, in particular, he saw the Apple user experience was significant because he felt it was a departure from the lack of creativity found in computer design at that time. Eventually he became head of Industrial Design in 1997 after the return of Steve Jobs and subsequently headed the design team responsible for the company’s ‘i’ products. Jobs made design a focus of Apple’s product strategy, and Ive proceeded to establish the firm’s leading position with a series of functionally clean, aesthetically pleasing, and remarkably popular products.

Jason Fried is the co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based company that builds web-based productivity tools, named after the radio telescope signals identified by astronomer Paul Horowitz as potential messages from extraterrestrial intelligence. It is one of the most inventive organisations in the world, with a spirit and philosophy that is inspiring and innovative. In their own words their products (Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire and Writeboard) do less than the competition – intentionally. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework. Fried is the co-author of the book Rework about new ways to conceptualise working and creating. It’s a minimalist manifesto that’s profoundly practical. In a world where we all keep getting asked to do more with less, they show us how to do less and create more. The company maintains a blog, Signal v Noise, and check out their web site for stimulating thoughts http://37signals.com/svn

Both Ive and Fried have been inspirations for me in their thinking and execution about their business, and I’ve followed them both for sometime, learning from their insights. So, what attributes can we glean from these two great technology innovators to help inspire Jim Royle to leap off the sofa?

Never stop learning Both Ive and Fried are curious, agitated and restless, they never believe that they know as much as they should know. Successful entrepreneurs learn from their failures and successes, adapt to changing circumstances, evaluate obstacles, and evolve their ideas. They learn from chefs, kids, dogs, musicians and athletes – a quote from Steve Jobs – they learn from everyone and everything. To be truly successful, you have to continue to stay dissatisfied and hungry.  Apple’s iconic Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish campaign reminds us this. Entrepreneurs act fearlessly, even if inside they feel fearful, about their personal learning journey and risk.

Have a laser focus Effective and successful entrepreneurs are geniuses when it comes to identifying market needs, and focus their energies on solving real problems. They spend little time obsessing about the location of their business or other factors that often are irrelevant, and the vast majority of their time obsessing about building great things. Jeff Bezos of Amazon, attributes Amazon’s success to a laser focus on customers: If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers in the Internet space, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience. The lesson from Ive and Fried is that they are committed, dedicated and focused, and you can see they view their achievements as their life’s purpose to give customers something unique.

Listen more than talk A great habit of entrepreneurs is that they first seek to understand, before they seek to be understood – entrepreneurs listen. Listening is not easy, most of us prefer to talk and rarely take the time to listen. One of the drivers of success for an entrepreneur in setting up a new business is to ask many questions and identify market needs, not simply building new gadgets. An inventor who was also an entrepreneur saw things this way – Thomas Edison famously said, I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others… I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent. If you have a better idea for a crystal ball that sees the future needs of markets you’ll be set for life. Until then, keep listening out for unsolved problems and gaps in the market, that’s where opportunities and trends begin.

Think ‘small’ rather than search for the next ‘big thing’ We all dream of finding ‘the next big thing’, but there’s a fundamental paradox in business – big ideas are small, simple and focused so they can occupy a specific niche and dominate their category. Kevin Systrom was building a location-based mobile business like FourSquare, but found that only one piece of it, the photo app, was different and had real traction with customers. So he focused on the photo app, named it Instagram and won an entire new market. If you can’t write your business idea on the back of your business card or explain it to a ten-year old, you probably have a big, bad idea – simplicity always wins. Apple’s devices have great elegance and simplicity in their user-interface and usability – Ive’s design work evokes clarity but great user functionality.

Use the start-up phase to take risks and experiment Entrepreneurs use the time between having a business idea and a successful start-up as the time to experiment. High growth entrepreneurs have a clear, deeply held vision, and realise this starting period is a valuable time, because you can create tremendous customer value out of practically nothing. When Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook, he thought small and experimentally. He began with students at Harvard and tinkered and experimented with the site to create different user experiences, and then started expanding. The concept of ‘Minimum Viable Product’ – MVP – is a great way to determine what the market and customers want from a new offering.

They realise that when people say You’re starting what? that they’re on to something  They create a new trend or product rather than fit into the market – growth entrepreneurs keep a finger on the pulse on what’s happening but don’t try to fit into the market – they try to appeal to where their customers are heading, and where there is a gap or an unsolved problem. You know you have a viable business idea when you find the ‘blue ocean space’ – a marketplace that no one is servicing. Of course, most people will tell you you’re crazy, but by stepping out of the existing, often crowded market, you have an opportunity to create your own market – that’s Apple’s strategy – deliver devices and services that no one had imagined or thought they wanted. Both Ive and Fried weren’t deterred by popular opinion, they had a vision and held that high.

They listen to their heart and emotions as much as their intellect. To be a successful entrepreneur, your goal has to be more than just making money. Entrepreneurship and growing your business idea are about finding your purpose, and making a difference. Your goal must be tied to your deeper story, your sense of destiny for yourself and your business. Innocent was launched by three Cambridge University graduates who quit their jobs in 1998. The idea behind Innocent is authenticity, as their tagline says, The fruit, the whole fruit, and nothing but the fruit. Its brand personality is playful and interesting, and in the early days Innocent experimented with labels listing ingredients such as banana, orange and a lawnmower that got them tremendous publicity. Inner and self- directed, they listened to their intuition and the world around them became secondary if it didn’t accord with their inner guidance.

So for Jim Royle, inspirational guidance from two great entrepreneurs who have been aspirational, daring to attempt ‘the impossible’, feats which any rational mind may have said weren’t possible. Simon Sinek in his brilliant book Start With Why concludes the reason people like Ive and Fried are successful is that they act from the inside out – they don’t sell their products, they sell their beliefs.  It is these inspirational beliefs that other people relate to which harnesses their commitment, support, buy in and ultimately delivers success.

Inspirational people lead others by letting them see that their hopes, dreams, aspirations, and values are not only desirable, but are possible, by demonstrating they can be done. Once you have seen impossible being achieved, then the world has changed. As Jason Fried says: We built the company that we’d want to do business with. We hope you do too.

Be a surfer; watch the ocean; figure out where the big waves are breaking and adjust accordingly

The headline to this blog posting it taken from Jason Fried & David Hansson, founders of 37 Signals, a web development company. Their attitude to strategy was we built a company we’d like to do business with, we hope you do too; a simple and elegant way of describing an approach to developing a company’s strategy.  In the business vocabularies of many people, ‘strategy’ is frequently used, yet rarely useful. For all of our strategy statements and plans, marketing, financial and innovation strategies etc., the ideas that we label as ‘strategy’ often fail to affect meaningful change. We don’t surf.

The problem is not that strategy as a concept fails us, but rather that we don’t really understand what strategy is. Perhaps the reality is a lot simpler  – there is always a better strategy than the one you have, you just haven’t thought of it yet.

Here’s where I’m starting from: Strategy is the practice of figuring out the best way to get from here to there. For me, strategy is a perspective, a mind set of how to perceive the world, from which a pattern in a stream of ideas take shape. Then again, the key to effective strategy isn’t more or better ideas, concepts or frameworks, but developing the ability to use what you already have – find out where the big waves are breaking.

Consider Kodak, which went bankrupt in January. It is no great surprise that its film business was destroyed by the growth of digital photography. What is surprising is that it was Kodak which invented the digital camera, yet they declined to develop it for fear of damaging its chemical film business. You don’t need the benefit of hindsight to see this was a bad decision. Digital photography was the classic disruptive innovation.

Kodak didn’t need better strategic thinking. It needed better ways of seeing the obvious but unpalatable, and doing the simple but uncomfortable – in the same way as Waterstones recent decision to stock Kindles and digital books. The move marks a complete turnaround in the chain’s strategy, and newly refurbished stores will now include ‘digital areas’, free Wi-Fi access and coffee shops in a drive to get digitally savvy consumers through the door. Their customers are book lovers, so let them make their choice of formats, and don’t push them away from the bookshop experience.

Most strategy is like this, simpler than consultants and academics would have you believe. You are not reinventing the company, redefining the industry or creating the next Facebook. You are looking at what’s going on in your markets to identify what customers – mostly your existing customers – are likely to be asking for in the future.

Isn’t strategy about looking inside the company to see where you are making money and where you are not, and then doing something about it? Often you end up with something quite like what you already have, with some parts expanded, others shrunk or eliminated and a few things added. Recognise that you probably have all the strategic knowledge you need. The value is not in concepts or techniques, but in the ability to see clearly and act accordingly.

A great example of being able to see clearly and act effectively is that of Steve Jobs, and the insights outlined in his biography by Walter Isaacson.

Throughout the book, time and time again you come back to one thought: the bigger part of the strategy equation is to have the vision and skills to back up strategic thinking. Isaacson identified fourteen insights from Jobs’ strategic thinking, each a valuable perspective on his perspicacity:

  • Focus Isaacson wrote extensively about Steve Jobs’ ability to pare unnecessary products, services, marketing, packaging, and even buttons on Apple’s (and Pixar’s) products. A classic of the 80/20 principle, underpinning a focus on what makes a difference.
  • Simplify I can’t think of another company that has been able to simplify the user experience and deliver customer value. Apple simplified its devices, software and applications, yet at the same time based on disruptive thinking, took users beyond where they were already delighted – an example being MP3 players to the iPod.
  • Have end-to end customer responsibility Jobs’ preferred business model was to control the entire user experience, clearly articulated with Apple’s own hardware, software, applications, devices, content and the product/service purchase and consumption experience – that’s why Apple has so little competition in the digital music space.
  • When behind, leapfrog Jobs was mortified when he realised Apple had missed the boat on burning music CDs with its original iMac. His solution was to leapfrog the competition with the iPod and iTunes. The lesson here is that strategy isn’t about playing keep up, or even catch up, but going beyond what the competition is doing.
  • Put products before profits Jobs spoke at length that Apple’s philosophy is to focus on making great products, and that by doing so, the profits will take care of themselves. Sales and finance folks tend to focus more on profits than products. Jobs believed this a recipe for mediocrity in strategic thinking.
  • Don’t be a slave to focus groups Jobs was asked by a member of the original Mac development team if they should run something by a focus group. Jobs famously said No, because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them and this underpins Apple’s strategy of creating such innovative products that ‘wow’ the market.
  • Bend reality A consistent point made in Isaacson’s book is that Apple accomplished great things – frequently things they themselves knew couldn’t be done – simply because Jobs believed otherwise. His vision and strategy were wrapped in his ‘reality distortion field’ so that ultimately there was no compromise to what he set out to do.
  • Impute It’s all about the book, not the cover, isn’t it? Not in Apple’s strategy map, it turns out the cover really does matter. Steve Jobs obsessed over packaging and presentation, not just in the products, but in the Apple Store design and layout, the Genius Bar formats and service, and even the Mac icon designs, all wrapping the core product
  • Push for perfection Back in the day when Mac vs. Windows was the platform war that mattered, many argued that what set Apple apart from the competition was that Microsoft settled for ‘good enough’. Reading Isaacson’s narrative, it’s clear that Jobs’ pursuit of absolute perfection was a big part of why the Apple strategy was so successful.
  • Tolerate only ‘A’ players Here’s the heart of the issue of Jobs’ perceived ‘rough edges’ of his personality. Being brutally honest (and frequently rude) was one of the ways he kept the ‘B’ players out of Apple. He refused to compromise on skill and talent, wanting only ‘A’ players, although his brusqueness and rudeness did cause tensions, but left no confusion or uncertainty.
  • Engage face-to-face Apple was an early adopter of the agile software development methodology – frequent face-to-face meetings mixing development, production and marketing folk – don’t collaborate via email. Equally, there are no spectators in meetings at Apple.
  • Know both the big picture and the details Here we have another attribute of strategy development and implementation that I think sets Steve Jobs apart. He had a big picture vision and the ability to hone in on the tiniest details that he thought mattered. Seeing the blue sky and washing the pots was his strategy mind map – heads up and open, hands on and busy.
  • Combine the humanities with the sciences There’s no right or wrong way to develop your strategic thinking. Isaacson believes Jobs was focused on the idea of marrying the influence and perspectives of humanities with science, and identifies the concept as a key part of why Apple and its products are so great.
  • Stay hungry, stay foolish Isaacson notes that Jobs stayed hungry and foolish throughout his career by making sure that the business and engineering aspect of his personality was always complemented by a hippie nonconformist side from his days as an artistic, acid-dropping, enlightenment-seeking rebel. Jobs was highly-strung, temperamental and clearly a man of contradictions, but that enabled the thinking.

Of the above factors to Job’s thinking around Apple’s strategy, Ken Segall in his book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, offers some intriguing insights from someone who worked closely with Jobs. He believes that Jobs’ obsession with simplicity was his greatest contribution to Apple’s strategy.

Segall was part of the team that dreamed up the Think different campaign, he also came up with the name iMac that would lead to the ‘I’ in a series of successful Apple products (Segall claims Jobs preferred MacMan!). He says, Despite the technological complexity of Apple products, the company always describes them not according to their technical specifications, like, say, a five-gigabyte drive on an iPod, but rather, as 1,000 songs in your pocket.

It’s easy to understand why simplicity gets sacrificed in strategy, for starters simplicity is often (wrongly) associated with a lack of sophistication and no one wants to be thought of as simple. But think about Apple’s iPod or Amazon’s Kindle, both are built on amazingly complex technology, yet delivered in deceptively simple, elegant designs.

Situations are rarely simple and the solutions to tough problems are usually complex, and it is important to understand all the angles and options before taking a decision, but as Albert Einstein once remarked, Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.

So looking at the points on Jobs’ thinking, strategy needs to be focused and simplified if you are to stand any chance of success. Strategy does not have to be complicated. In fact, new strategic directions demand clarity and simplicity if they are to succeed – so back to the title of the blog and the 37 Signals philosophy.

Tomorrow rewards the curious, so keep demanding focus and simplicity and it will pay off. We don’t have to be out there with a lot of noise all the time. What we need to do is paint a vision for customers, promise them deliverables and go do it, because after all, a satisfied customer is the best strategy at the end of the day.