Innovate or Die


There is no time to stand still. If you aren't scanning the horizon, learning from your past failures and continuously innovating, you risk being left behind by competitors.

Change is inevitable, and there are plenty of very large successful companies which failed to innovate and change with the times and have, well... died. NOKIA is very interesting case study.

The Finnish company Nokia was one of the first into the mobile phone business. Nokia's involvement in the industry goes back to the 60's when car phones were the only way to use mobile communications.

Any over-40-year-old has probably owned a Nokia phone at some point. They were one of the most popular phone especially in developing countries. I loved them. The must haves were the 2110, 3110 and 5110, the classics from the brick to the smaller palm size phone.

Nokia's design and its commitment to digital phones in the 1990's helped it overtake Motorola as the world's leading cell phone supplier. Nokia was always ahead of the game, anticipating trends and making new markets.

Nokia's young designers were able to read and exploit the difficult young professional and teenage markets and produce phones that were cool as well as usable. They were top business accessories as well as fashionable consumer products. The Nokia 2110 series was the definitive business phone for many years.

Nokia also entered the premium phone business with the Nokia 8110, which starred in the film, The Matrix. It literally pioneered the smartphone.

It spent enormous amounts of money on research and development. What Nokia was UNABLE to do in the end, though, was translate all that R&D spending into products that people actually wanted to buy.

You see, Nokia was blindsided by Apple when it introduced the iPhone.

Not only did Nokia failed to recognise the increasing importance of software, as lead by Android and Apple, it also underestimated how important the transition to smartphones would be. In retrospect, it is a classic case of a company being enthralled (and, in a way, imprisoned) by its past success. Long after the iPhone's release, in fact, Nokia continued to insist that its superior hardware designs would win over users.

Who killed Nokia? Nokia did.

For four reasons:

  1. Nokia was technically inferior to Apple
  2. Nokia was complacent
  3. Its leaders did not see the disruptive iPhone coming
  4. Nokia people weakened Nokia people, with fear of management.This made the company vulnerable to competitive forces. Managers were in the dark as to what was going on.

Not that long ago, it was the world's dominant and pace-setting mobile-phone maker with over 50% of the market in 2007. Today, it has just three per cent of the global smartphone market.

At his final speech when Microsoft purchased Nokia, the Nokia CEO ended his speech by saying "We didn't do anythig wrong, but somehow we lost". All his management team, himself included, teared sadly.

Nokia has been a respectable company. But they missed out on learning, they missed out on changing, and thus they lost the opportunity to make it big.

In 2008, Nokia was said to have one of the most valuable brands in the world, but it overestimated its strength of its brand. It failed to recognise that brands today aren't as resilient as they once were. The high-tech era has taught people to expect constant innovation; when companies fall behind, consumers are quick to punish them.

The message of this story is that if you don't change, the advantage you had yesterday will be replaced by the trends of tomorrow. You don't have to do much wrong—as is Nokia's case—as long as your competitors catch the wave and do it RIGHT, you can lose out and fail.

To change and improve yourself is giving yourself a second chance. To be forced by others to change, is like being discarded. Those who refuse to learn and improve risk becoming redundant. They will learn the lesson in a hard and expensive way.

Today's quote is from Steve Jobs, who said:

"Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower".

So true. So how, as a business, do you keep up with innovation?

You plan. You make R&D part of your business model. And you never take your eye off the market.

I'm always happy to catch up over a coffee to talk  about your business and how you can make innovation part of your structure.

Adam Carter | Carmalk Consulting


M: 0400 761 700

W: (07) 3869 2573


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