Innovation is not the issue with Blackberry and RIM

This is solely an article of opinion stemming from a desire to see companies excel. One of my favorite family films in the past couple of years had a great one-liner in it which was “your focus needs more focus”. While funny, very few statements are more profound especially when applied to business.

When I think about things like continuous improvement or continuous delivery, I think about the whole idea of focus. To have or do something that is continuous implies that there was a focused approach in making it that way and an even more focused approach in ensuring it continues, thus making it continuous.

When I read about companies like RIM that have struggled to compete in a market saturated with new thinking and innovation, I question why the company didn’t focus on what it has always done really well, serving the corporate market. I question why it was necessary to make a tablet or a touchscreen phone. Why was it so important to portray a “me too” model to the market vs. a focus on staying true to what made them enormously useful and successful as a global brand.

Almost every business person I know around the globe still uses a Blackberry because they see value in the product. They rely on the network and platform to deliver email instantly. They like the idea of feeling the keyboard when they type. They use the functionality of the software well to find information and communicate effectively with colleagues and peers. The product, in it’s original form and intent, works and has never become irrelevant. So why did we confuse the strategy?

I would not dare suggest that RIM didn’t do it’s homework in learning what their customers really wanted but with such a vast footprint of loyal corporate users wasn’t there a way to design a faster and more stable platform instead of just new devices? Wasn’t there value in designing and executing a global effort to sell into the enterprise and gain greater loyalty through aggressive pricing models, improved features and more focus on what would make their core better?

The pressure to compete in business is in effect a grown up version of the peer pressure we’ve all experienced during childhood. We constantly deal with the temptation to change our thinking, our values and the things that have worked well.

Innovation is not the issue with RIM, it’s simply the loss of focus. It’s the difference between doing one thing great instead of several things good. In the media this week, the company has intimated that it will focus on its core corporate market in an effort to turn the ship in the right direction. While this is commendable, today it serves as a case study in why so many really good companies often lose their way.

If I then tie this back to focus, this is where I’d emphasize the need to define what we mean by this term and terms like continuous, value, outcome and other buzzwords we use loosely to describe our approach.

I’d love to see less PowerPoint at the board level and more Post-It’s and index cards on the wall that clearly articulate not only what we are going to and why we are going to do it but also how we will get there all the while maintaining our focus.

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