I am going to tell a story. And I am going to tell you the moral of the story first: keep it simple. It should inspire you when you are battling out with your management team what your school is really about.
Jon Steel has sat through an elaborate presentation of all the many wonderful products Apple was producing. Steve Jobs is there. When the presentation is over, Jobs gets up with a marker pen in his hand and crosses out all of the products except two:
Turning to face us again, he said, “We’ve got to go back to doing what we do best.” As he paused, I found myself thanking God that he had said in plain English what his now-silent marketing colleagues had attempted to communicate with many charts and mentions of core competencies.
I was no longer thinking about coffee. He was like coffee. The energy in the room was palpable.
“The two projects that remain,” he continued, “are for products we’re calling the G4 and the iMac. They represent what we always wanted this company to be about; they’re technologically superb and visually stunning. And I’m going to bet the future of this company on them.”
All we had seen of the G4 and the iMac were two boxes, roughly drawn in black marker pen on a dry-erase board. But somehow we knew what he was talking about. We felt what he was talking about. We were excited too.
“So that’s what I’m doing. What I’ve done,” he said. “Now what do I want from you?”
Joining us at the table, he told us that, in its communications, Apple needed to say “thank you.” He wanted to thank all the people who had stuck by the company and its products during a time when any sane individual would have predicted that Apple would shortly go out of business. “We’re an iconoclastic company,” he said. “And these people are just like us. They don’t care about being different. They like being different. I think we should recognize that and celebrate it. Thank them for hanging in with us.”
You may not like the cult of Steve Jobs. You may think that the revival of Apple was not a good thing. But do you remember people queuing up to get an i-phone? Do you remember the thrill of using an iPad when it first came out because it was simple and responsive?
I remember. This is it, I thought. This is someone actually thinking about what I might want and need. This should be your aim too: a simple message people understand is meant for them.
In my last post I talked about getting your core team together around a simple idea. You could do worse than read the book Perfect Pitch by Jon Steel, from which I took this anecdote. Steel is on a humanitarian mission to save the world from boring presentations. There are great stories in it. You will learn how a hooker is better at marketing than an advertising team, for example.
You can take these ideas across into democratic education. Neill had one powerful idea: freedom works. In a way he was appealing at the same gut level to the iconoclasts that Apple appeals to: people who do not want to live grey lives. And if you get it right you will be able to communicate from your gut feeling to the mirror feeling in the parents of the children who will come to your school. You will be able to get your teaching team behind you as well.
- cut out all jargon.
- don’t use vague words like learning, creative and natural.
- use verbs.
- try it out again and again
This is not just marketing. It is communication. But I would encourage you to read Jon Steel’s book, because it is more than just communication as well. If you think hard about the vision you want to communicate you are also refining the vision. And you are going to have to keep going back to that vision as weeds grow up around it.
Apple Shaken to the Core
There is a coda to this story.
I am working now on a mini-ipad with a detachable key-pad. When it appeared it was like someone had been reading my thoughts: a simple device that is truly portable; not too many features and the ability for me to choose what I want on it.
But I have fallen out of love with Apple.
They have decided that they know better than me. The upgrades put things on the ipad that I do not want without offering me the choice. It’s invasive. So Apple has lost Jobs’s vision that “these people are just like us”. Now it wants to be like an annoying teacher filling up the curriculum with cool stuff.
Don’t let this happen to you. Agonise over your mission. Learn to express that mission clearly and passionately. And keep coming back to it when bureaucratic weeds grow up around you.
At the end of the day we are fighting against that stifling greyness.
Keep it simple!
Key word: Simple