Research In Motions Missteps Present Real Lessons for us
By Craig Wilson
About a decade ago I was visiting my client, Mike, at his “world headquarters”. I put that in quotes because his world headquarters at that time was his house in the Cannon Falls area. A couple of years before Mike owned a successful IT consulting firm. He had gotten tired of managing it and I had the privilege to lead the negotiations in the sale of the company to publicly traded company in Boston. Mike used some of the proceeds to buy some acreage and build his dream home, which also functioned as his workplace in the extremely slimmed down new company he started. Most of his work was done with clients on the East Coast, but Mike could work remotely and only traveled to the clients about once a month. So, this leads me to my story.
I walked in and the first thing Mike says is, “You’ve got to see my Blackberry.” Now Mike had become a gentleman farmer on his new land. On previous visits he had shown me his goats, his chickens, and even his catapult – yes catapult! But this must have be some fruit. But he didn’t say blackberries, he said blackberry. As you know by now it wasn’t a piece of fruit but a phone, not just any phone – you could send and receive email with it. This was truly revolutionary. Soon the BlackBerry ruled the infant smart phone market. It wasn’t long before new competition entered the market. Research In Motion’s (RIM), the company that makes BlackBerries, next act set in motion its decline.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the BlackBerry held nearly 50% of the US smart phone market, now its share is now only 3.6%. This decline can be attributed to the “tyranny of success”. Authors Michael Tushman and Charles O’Reilly describe how often successful organizations dismiss new innovations as irrelevant or a passing fad, after all we’re number 1. Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android brought new applications to the smart phone market, and touch screens as opposed to typing. A number of years ago when asked if BlackBerry’s were going to color screens RIM’s CEO and Founder, Mike Lazaridis, showed signs early on of the tyranny of success by saying at an analyst meeting, “Do I need to read my email in color?” (Wall Street Journal). With this attitude, the BlackBerry soon fell behind its rivals and shows little chance of recovering it now.
How can we apply these lessons in our own careers?
- Embrace change
Kevin Cashman says being open to change allows you to be open to the possibilities presented by each situation. Maybe it’s to start your own business, learn a new technology, or just try a new restaurant. Change challenges your current reality to allow you to see a
- Scan the horizon
Stanley Gryskiewicz says out on the periphery of organizations is innovation comes from, if you embrace the change early you’ll stay ahead. I started my own CPA firm in 1994. I saw the world of technology making huge changes to how future business would be done. The changes made it possible for me to work right out of my house without all the support staff necessary in the old paradigm. I had freedom to work when I wanted, take time for my family, and be more productive than ever before.
- Be a life-long learner
I asked GEN’s own octogenarian and founder of “High-Five Tuesday” George Teagarden to share his wisdom on being a life-long learner. Here’s his advice:
In marketing you must stay abreast of the latest trends in our industry or you no longer have any value and bring nothing to the table. In order to bring value to the organization I have had to stay qualified in technology by having an iPhone, an iPad and a desk top computer.
Life-long learning is a never ending process and must become a way of life. I don’t believe one should ever quit, the desire must always be there for personal fulfillment.
- Look for organizations that strive to continually improve
When you’re interviewing remember it’s a two-way street. You need to be interviewing the company as well. Ask a lot of questions that help you decide whether or not the company is forward thinking – questions such as, “Where do you think the company will be in 5 years?” Do your research and ask about the future of a particular development in the company’s industry. For example, “I’ve read that the next generation of widget presses are going to revolutionize your industry, how are you going to take advantage of this new development?”
Don’t worry about you doing the asking, most employers will love to see your interest and knowledge of their company. If they don’t like it, then you have your answer – they aren’t focused on the future and how to continually improve.
Here’s a link to the Wall Street Journal report on RIM: