Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry Hardcover – May 26 2015
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RIM rode technology disruption and created a company with $20 billion/year in revenue only to see it disappear by being disrupted themselves.
Lots of lessons here.
1) Even though the CEOs were reading the "Innovators Dilemma" they still had little perspective on how rapid disruption would happen to them. And even less of an understanding what to do about it. (The attempt to integrate the QNX software into existing products is a cautionary tale of technical debt, refactoring and plain bad engineering management.) The iPhone in 2007 should have been a wake-up call to both CEOs. Yet they both fell prey to the classic "disruption always looks like a toy to the incumbents" mistake.
2) The company grew past the management skills of the founders. The insular nature of the founders, the Canadian entrepreneurial ecosystem, founder hubris and a feckless board ended any potential of a positive intervention. It took a complete meltdown to get the board to act.
3) Mike Lazaridis, the technical CEO, fell prey to the "shiny object" syndrome. He discovered new technology (QNX) that he thought obsoleted the current software that drove the Blackberry handsets (Java). But instead of figuring out how to finesse the transition, he literally abandoned the existing development team (and revenue). A great example of how not to manage a technology transition.
3) Dealing with major platform disruption usually takes radical structural changes, not new product features. The story unfolds as a slow motion car crash as the CEOs waited, way, way too long to recognize, let alone deal with it. There's a reason that turnaround CEO's downsize companies and focus on what's important. If you're the founder it's almost impossible to get rid of your favorite projects.
Only quibble others have noted. The book barely mentions the changes Heins made, and almost nothing about Chens strategy.
A great business book.
Its nice to read an account that talks about the people, what they did and how they worked to take a company to the stratosphere. Its been too commonplace in recent years to be the butt jokes delivered by people that never aimed as high as many at RIM did every day. Armchair business quarter backs that never would have survived a week opine on how "stupid" everyone must have been to not see the writing on the walls. I'm proud and fortunate to have been part of the company. I hope that many people read this book and view the story as a human story of triumph and failure - but human always.
You can tell that the authors did a lot of research, and what you really have is the full story of how RIM was founded up until its current diminished state. I learned a lot about the company's history and about Lazaridis and Balsillie that I didn't know before. I actually have a lot more respect for them now, and I found myself wondering often "what the hell would I have done in this situation?"
This book is also well written with a good narrative, so it is very readable. It reminds me a little bit of Barbarians at the Gate. Didn't feel like a slog to get through, and it was compelling to really feel behind the scenes at the company when they were undergoing a difficult time.