A few days ago I published this post after watching Steve Jobs’ Q&A session on the final day of WWDC ’97. What struck me about the footage was how much the 1997 Apple shared with Research in Motion today, particularly their ineffective leadership, incoherent platform strategy and confused developers.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this: earlier today, Boy Genius Report published an open letter from an anonymous RIM executive to the company’s senior management team highlighting his/her frustrations with the way the company was being run, including an 8-point list of suggestions to rectify the highlighted issues. Point three on this list, entitled ‘Cut projects to the bone’, is rounded off thus:
Look at Apple in 1997 for tips here. I really want you to watch this video because it has never been more relevant.
To hear somebody at a ‘high level’ within the company (verified by BGR) making these connections is hopeful for RIM. In 1997, Apple was blighted from the inside by ‘good engineers who were bad managers’, only able to create products from a technical perspective and with little regard for user experience or consumer relevance. When Jobs returned to the company and sought effective change to right the sinking ship of Apple (first puppeteering then-CEO Gil Amelio and then as CEO outright) he did so by doing exactly what the anonymous exec prescribes in their letter: ‘Cut[ting] projects to the bone’. RIM’s inability to ‘kill their babies’ is costing them dear.
The comparison of RIM to the 1997 Apple is actually not as disadvantageous a position to be cast in as it may first appear. There are two reasons for this:
As evidenced in this open letter, there are executives at the company who are open to outside reason and influence, who just want the best for the company, who hate to see it suffer and want to restore it to past glory. The anonymous author of the letter may not have the gravity of Jobs, but they are not alone:
I know I am not alone — the sentiment is widespread and it includes people within your own teams.
Again, this is great for RIM if it is indeed true, and it sounds perfectly plausible that a widespread sentiment of lost confidence and disillusionment might be prevalent at the company right now. In numbers, this voice of reason may grow loud enough to be heard.
Secondly, and to further RIM’s advantage, is that 1997 was 14 years ago. That’s 14 years of turnaround strategy, platform change and growth, alterations to business models and more upon which to draw. Even if the company was faltering for other reasons, they could do far worse than to study the changes made by Jobs and his team when they returned to Apple. The plain similarities between the problems of RIM ’11 and Apple ’97 make it almost a cut-and-paste job in some cases (sending clear messages to your developers, for example).
However RIM chooses to proceed, the opportunity to enact the ruthless and effective change in the company encouraged by the open letter is likely not one that they will apparently be ‘aggressively addressing’ according to the reply posted on their corporate blog earlier today. Right now, the company seems too preoccupied and defensive to take the effective action it desperately needs to: it seems that the program of self-protective corporate blog posts, meaningless shareholder appeasement programs and public CEO-meltdowns is set to continue.