RIM’s Blackberry, Dying on the Vine.

RIM’s Blackberry franchise is a wonderful case study in the dire consequences of corporate + creative complacency, as well as the effects and unavoidable fate of operating within an anti-risk/anti-innovation vacuum.

RIM was successful because it introduced a product that did precisely what its intended audience needed, corporate email and did it well. What happened along the way were a few innovative gems (Blackberry Messenger) an expanded market place (both in customers and competition) and several learnings that other companies would extract to later bleed RIM out.

RIM, seemingly missed these learnings, ignored them or lost focus. When a company continues to turn a profit (in spite of itself), resting on past laurels can blind leaders to changing tides and the subsequent wave(s) that will inevitably wash away those successes.

On Apple’s Q4 earnings call back in October (’10), Steve Jobs said of RIM:

“They must move beyond their area of strength and comfort, into the unfamiliar territory of trying to become a software platform company.”

Ignoring what was incredibly valuable advice, RIM continued to produce Blackberry devices that remained relatively unchanged from one device to next. When faced with innovative devices from competitors they’d focus on their market share rather than their product. Now that their market share has eroded they’ve focused on their positive balance sheets, dismissing what seems to be obvious to everyone else.

Though there are obvious lessons to be learned in what has become RIM’s slow demise, I think there is a slightly less obvious lesson. Your secondary services can offer great opportunity. But companies must create environments that encourage this type of exploration and broad based thinking.

The Blackberry Messenger Application had a value seemingly unmatched in loyalty. The application was able to anchor so many to an outdated device for so long. This only emphasized its value to users.

Herein lies the missed opportunity to innovate and expand. BBM could have become an ancillary business opportunity yet it went unexplored. Rather than innovate, Blackberry chose to hold customers dissatisfied with the majority of the devices’ function for the small part they loved. If BBM was this powerful its presence on multiple devices could have laid the ground for a new business opportunity on foreign land.

Missed opportunities like this are the result of a work environment that doesn’t encourage exploration, innovation and new ideas. Could BBM have become the next Twitter? Groupon? FourSquare? It’s possible but that ship sailed when iMessenger was announced.

Soon after writing this post an open letter by a senior level executive (who probably should be tapped to be RIM’s CEO) highlighted additional areas of anti-innovation and disorder that have contributed to the organization’s downturn.

The most detrimental of these appears to be fear. Fear has its place, but an organization threaded with fear will produce very little in the way of new ideas. Failure is always an option; companies should fail several times over. Just keep these failures behind closed doors and out of the hands of your customers.

Categories: Finance, Mobile
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