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September 30, 2009

Writing off into the sunset: A look forward


BOSTON, USA – This is my last day at Nokia.

Back in June I stepped down as Editor-in-Chief and handed over the leadership of this site to Phil, in preparation of my eventual departure from the company.

Since then, I have been just another writer on this team, focusing more on my usual “round ups” of links, generating discussions based on articles from elsewhere in the Nokia neighborhood. I’ve also been transferring as much of Nokia Conversations’ culture as I could to Phil, who has been mixing it with his special sauce to take this site and ancillary channels to a new level.

In this final post as a Nokia employee, I’d like to leave some parting words, pointing to things that I think will be major parts of the conversation over the next year, if not longer. These are more my observations, and, at some points, may deviate greatly from the established corporate line. But these comments are more to generate a discussion that I hope lasts a long time.

Care to join me? Then read on.

May the real competitor rise?
There is a great story from Sarah Hrdy, from her studies of langur monkeys in India. Males had harems of females and spent all their time fighting off other males while the “subjugated” females spent their time surreptitiously mating with other males. The upshot was, the male was utterly distracted by fending off too many competitors. [I was a biologist, originally, so excuse the bio-example.]

Likewise in business. There are only so many fronts Nokia can expand into and compete. Therefore, even if it hits many markets, it focuses on a small amount of competitors (friendly or not), such as Google, Apple, RIM, and Facebook.

Of course, it’s not that clear if the real competitors are any of these giants, as readers of the Innovator’s Dilemma know. While Facebook and Google simmered for a while before shooting up, and RIM and Apple have been around for a long time and suffered a few near-deaths before hitting their current success streak, companies like Twitter and YouTube (and products like netbooks) sprang up out of almost nothing.

Is there a little David out there that will seriously challenge Nokia-Goliath in a way the above-named have not?

Brand momentum
And with Nokia’s shift in competitors, what happens to the brand, ranked fifth largest by Interbrand? Long-term and steady, Nokia has been building its brand around Connecting People for a very long time. Will the brand hold up to the new world order that Nokia is entering?

Also, how might the strength and assurance of the brand hinder growth in areas where Nokia is actually a challenger? Can Nokia remain big and humble, complex and friendly?

Environment and people
Last year I asked readers to re-evaluate what business Nokia was in, looking at major expertise areas that the company built in pursuit of becoming the largest mobile device manufacturer.

One area that makes me proud and continues to amaze me is led by the environmental and social responsibility teams at Nokia. On the one hand, it’s just being ethically good, but on the other hand, Nokia is proving you can make positive changes that are actually good for the company, too.

I wonder if Nokia will ever spin off an Environmental consulting group for other industries. That’d be one more business area Nokia leads in.

Portfolio integration
One area that captures a large part of my thinking process is trying to understand Nokia’s strategy for accumulating talent and technologies from small companies. Nokia has been purchasing companies with a regularity not seen since the heady 90s. It will be important that these new companies rapidly become integrated into the solution-making processes at Nokia. But that they also need to rapidly transform Nokia’s culture into what made these companies so innovative in the first place that Nokia bought them.

Designing a way out of a paper bag
With Nokia’s new Solutions division coming to life tomorrow, Nokia needs to do more than change the name plates on the org chart, but change the nature of the leaders inside the company as well. It is great to know that Nokia indeed brings folks from outside the company at high levels. OK, so they are usually Finns, or ex-Nokians, or both, but even a prodigal son, tempered in the real world, can bring transformative magick to a core division at Nokia.

Design will have to be stronger in making sure what ends up in users’ hands. I do not think new ways of designing are needed, as the design teams are overflowing with amazing people. But the company really needs to make sure that what the design wizards dream up, Nokia can, once again, deliver.

I have seen changes in the past two years that point in that direction. I hope the new folks coming in over the next few weeks bring another round of fresh energy and determination to Nokia.

Product obsessions
Based on the readership of this publication, hardware products still dominate everyone’s mind-set. There have been some few who keep warning that the days of hardware are over and that software is where it is at (and, looking at Nokia’s activity of the past 3 years, Nokia knows that too). But, the trend-setters and industry observers alike are looking for technical leadership from Nokia.

Yet there are those who are dissatisfied with the Nokia Booklet 3G, the Nokia N900, and the Nokia N97. I think these people are passionate about the possibilities of tech and passionate about Nokia and, like over-achiving parents, scold Nokia when it didn’t deliver the stars.

That’s fine. It’s a game one can never win or end. And it’s a game that Nokia is willing to keep on playing, finding its way to a place that excites it and its customers.

Waving good-bye
Nokia Conversations is now part of that journey and I am happy to be given the opportunity to help build it. I remain passionate about Nokia and experience the same love-hate elation-frustration that all you passionate readers have.

I, once again, want to thank you for a fun ride. Some of you have even been with me for even longer than this publication.

I hope that we may meet again.

Image from Phil of Ottowa