The only impression Stephen Elop left on me in his time at Microsoft was that his speech at Tech-ed in Berlin on the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the wall had been seen as boring. What is already being called his “Burning platform” memo pretty much kills off any reputation for dullness. Wake up calls to companies rarely get openings of this drama:
“There is a pertinent story about a man who was working on an oil platform in the North Sea. He woke up one night from a loud explosion … He could stand on the platform, and inevitably be consumed by the burning flames. Or, he could plunge 30 meters in to the freezing waters. The man was standing upon a “burning platform,” and he needed to make a choice. …. We too, are standing on a “burning platform” ”
Engadget says Elop is “neither Finnish, nor raised in the Nokia system” and I’ve had a couple of conversations recently about incomers to companies. You’d expect Microsoft to end up full of “Microsoft people”, Ford to be full of “Ford people” and Nokia full of “Nokia people”. If you can get past people’s tendency to hire in their own image and companies being most attractive to people like the ones they already have – even then people adopt the ways of a community they belong to – which could be business, academic, government, even monastic. It was someone writing about the Atkins diet who introduced me to an idea from Thomas Kuhn’s “The structure of scientific revolutions”: new ideas must come from outside the community (Atkins was a cardiologist, not a dietician); precisely because being part of the community means buying into its ideas. People raised inside a system don’t change it: change comes from outside.
The people who appointed Elop would have known that. It’s likely that Elop had reached the conclusion “If we jump we may drown, if we don’t we will burn” before he took the job, and would have shared it. Now he’s told a wider audience there is no other choice “we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.”
He says the iPhone has 61% of the $300+ smartphone market and Nokia “still don’t have a product that is close to their experience.” He says “Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable”. And at the low end of the market “Chinese OEMs are cranking out a device much faster than … ‘the time that it takes us to polish a PowerPoint presentation’.”
The problems aren’t just external Nokia is “not even fighting with the right weapons.” he says: “We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.” We thought, past tense? If you don’t think it will be that platform then what do you do with it? He says Symbian “has proven to be non-competitive … and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms.” Symbian, like Windows Mobile 6.x was designed for pre-iPhone market they’re cold-war products in a Post Berlin-Wall world.
And it’s to metaphors of warfare that Elop turns to explain the jump Nokia is expected to announce on Feb 11th. “The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren’t taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.”
Putting the building option to one side, which ecosystem will they catalyse or join? The language seems to rule out selecting more than one. It’s probably safe to assume that Apple aren’t looking to license their OS, ditto RIM. Palm’s new WebOS doesn’t have much of an ecosystem. A Google VP appeared to rule out Android by tweeting ‘ #feb11 “Two turkeys do not make an Eagle”.’ The date appears to suggest Nokia and someone else. And I seem to have crossed everyone but Microsoft off the list.
Microsoft Published Steve Ballmer’s mail from September 9th last year announcing Elop was off. Maybe “I… look forward to continuing to work with him in his new role at Nokia.” is just what you say as CEO when one of your people becomes CEO somewhere else? But if on Friday, 155 days later, Steve and Stephen make a joint announcement someone is bound to ask if 155 days is long enough to do much more than polish a two-CEO PowerPoint presentation.