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Wake Up and Move

February 9, 2011

I remember a decade back getting a chance to listen to the CEO of Nokia talk at our company’s sales conference.  I still remember that one of his key messages to his internal teams was: “Fail Early.”  He rewarded risk, and encouraged people to make mistakes, learn, and then recover and run.  Our whole team was very impressed, and it made my own company look to see what we could learn from Nokia.

Oh, how the mighty have gone all red-tape…  Nokia is a hot mess these days.  It started when the company spilt into three competing divisions, and then made them take technology from each other while locking down the budget.  As I’m fond of saying: you can say competition makes one hungry, but if the only food available is your co-worker, it’s a bad plan…

Enter Stephen Elop.  The WSJ has a leak of his internal memo, which comes ahead of his unveiling of new plans at Mobile Conference at the end of the week.

Comparing Nokia to a man standing on a burning oil platform who jumps into icy waters to escape the flames, Mr. Elop says dramatic action is needed to reverse a decline that has left the Finnish company “years behind” the competition.

His solution seems to be a focus on a technological leap.  Here’s some more detail.

“The first iPhone shipping [was] in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to that experience. Android came on the scene just over two years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable,” Mr. Elop writes.

Mr. Elop also says that the company’s strategy of pushing its Symbian operating system, while creating its new MeeGo operating system isn’t enough to keep up with competitors. He notes that while the company thought MeeGo would be a “winning” platform for high-end smartphones, at the company’s current pace it will only have one MeeGo product in the market this year.

Symbian was old when I was young… and Nokia hasn’t seemed to be able to break into new things.  It’s unclear from this snippet whether this means a shift in engineering, product development, or just a new focus.  With that said, here’s a CEO pushing a leadership position, and the tone appears to be pretty harsh on the current capabilities.

It’s interesting.  These days CEOs seem to be more cheerleaders than taskmasters, and the “new, enlightened environment” in most companies seems to appreciate that.  Well, speaking as a guy who shakes his head every time I see the “Ping Pong Table Room” sign in one of our buildings, I’m all for a bit of old-school harshness to wake up a once-good company like Nokia to the new world.

So maybe a few more bosses should look at the burning oil derrick and the cold water.  The call to the employees might be needed.

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