Deepak: ‘Blackberry Blues. Corporate Innovation is Broken.’

Deepak: ‘Blackberry Blues. Corporate Innovation is Broken.’
Comments Off, 18/06/2015, by , in Startup Tips

It seems to me that corporate Innovation is broken.

In fact, while I carry the latest android smartphone, I’m still old fashioned when it comes to checking and managing my emails: I still use Blackberry.

Blackberry missed the smartphone wave and it’s clear from their recent product launches that attempts at catching up are failing – just look at their tablet, touch screen phones and passport devices.  Recently, they even launched the ‘classic’ – uh oh!  The nature of technology is innovate or die. The big question now is whether Blackberry can still survive and thrive?

Before pondering this question, let’s clarify the difference between innovation and patents. (I’m bringing this up because it’s very common for business news to discuss patents being granted to a corporation, thus implying that the more patents granted, the more innovative a company is).

The fact is it’s the ability to commercialize patents that separates innovative companies from the rest, with Apple being the most successful corporate example today. And it’s what startups are designed to do. So, what should Blackberry do?  If I were in charge, what would I do to turn things around?

I’d start with what I know, based around my experiences teaching, mentoring and using the Lean Startup approach. I won’t explain this in detail here, but the credit goes to Steve Blank, whose workshops I attended.

Lean Startup makes a clear distinction between large or established companies verses startups: It’s the idea of ‘search verses execute’ expertise – startups are searching for a repeatable and scalable business model, while established companies and corporations specialize in executing validated business models. By definition, startup companies are commercializing innovation. More specifically, they’re commercializing cutting edge products and services, effectively creating new markets.

But that doesn’t mean corporations can’t use the Lean Startup approach for their innovation management. If anything, it’s common to see corporate accelerators using some of this approach, which leads me to argue that corporate accelerators could be as successful as the best startup accelerators – if the role of the corporation is well understood in the innovation process.

Corporate accelerators also face some challenges under their current design. They are designed more to outsource innovation (which is a good first step), but can fail to note the importance of changing the internal corporate culture towards the innovation process. It means that more work needs doing when it comes to helping corporations fix their innovation process.

So, what is the role of the corporate in innovation – especially the kind of innovation that startups specialize in? Coming back to Blackberry, lets review its business model.  Blackberry’s business model has clearly been validated. At the most basic level, the company used to make a lot of money thanks to some great technology which solved major pain points for a wide customer base.

We can still say the following about Blackberry:

1. Their sales and marketing channels are still strong – we still hear about Blackberry

2. They can manufacture and distribute at a global scale

3. Both consumers and corporations know the brand well

The conclusion here is that Blackberry specializes in execution, which is why we still hear about them and can still access their products. But they are making products no one wants! They are no longer solving major pain points. Instead, they are executing well from a misguided playbook. Effectively, they are out of touch with customer needs.

Startups approach innovation from the opposite end, designing a solution around solving a problem (validation) and once it’s validated, they scale up. Startups need help in the validation and scale phase of their lifecycle, essentially, testing their solutions and then scaling. Logically, this is the value proposition for corporate accelerators working with startups.

Also, while the whole world is now talking about the Internet of Things (IOT), Blackberry was one of the first technology companies to succeed in that space, way before it became a buzzword.

I would propose Blackberry set up an accelerator division that plays to its strengths.  A simplistic description of the process is that they deliberately run as many ideas as possible through the accelerator and evaluate them for their successes and failures, by:

- Select ideas internally and externally

- Rapidly prototype and vigorously test ideas with different customer segments

- Launch the successful products, get feedback and improve

A critical part of the innovation process is defining what success means. One version is creating a successful product, however, this process will create a lot of failures, so part of the success measurement will ideally include designing for failure. Why? All startups and serial entrepreneurs can tell you that the most important learning process is through failure. There is no major learning in immediately succeeding!

This process would give Blackberry access to a new learning curve and reignite a culture of innovation.  The best tech companies are doing this by design.

Another step I would suggest is that Blackberry partner with large customers from different industries and work with them to solve specific problems.

Apple was left for dead many times – Blackberry still has a chance! #nevergiveup

The article was contributed by Deepak Madnani of PaperclipHK.


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