Too much in love with your solution? Be careful not to suffer the same fate as BlackBerry
BlackBerry was so focused on its own success that the threat of the iPhone was ignored. Therein lies a lesson for entrepreneurs, writes innovation expert Simone van Neerven. Every now and then you have to take a step back and observe. And then speed up again, exactly like Slack did in 2012.
Falling from grace
We all know what happened to the BlackBerry. It is interesting to reflect on why things could go so wrong. BlackBerry was the pioneer in sending and receiving emails on a mobile phone. With its trademark QWERTY keyboard, BlackBerry became an instant darling of world leaders, corporate hotshots, and the rich and famous. Years ago, owning a BlackBerry device was a status symbol.
When the iPhone was launched in 2007, Mike Lazaridis, the inventor of the BlackBerry, was anything but afraid of the consequences. Sales figures continued to rise and in 2011 BlackBerry was at its highest peak. Lazaridis proudly proclaimed: “It is an iconic product: it is used by companies, it is used by leaders, and it is used by celebrities.” At that very moment, BlackBerry had already lost its dominant market position. Even when Blackberry sales started to plummet in 2012 and iPhones were sold like hotcakes, Lazaridis was still resisting the idea of typing on glass: “The keyboard is one of the reasons why people buy Blackberrys.”
So, what went wrong? Lazaridis focused on the keyboard tastes of millions of existing users, completely ignoring the appeal of a touchscreen for billions of potential new users.
Falling in love with your solution can have a dramatic outcome. But how can people be so fixated that they are closed to other perspectives? In the case of Lazaridis, it was a combination of factors. He was overconfident and assumed he was on the right track as BlackBerry sales were still on the rise. He firmly kept believing in a solution that was most likely based on his private signals and preferences. On top of that, he also ignored signs and arguments from people indicating that customer behavior was changing.
Another reason for tunnel vision is that there is so much emphasis on winning, that people only focus on achieving that one goal. They won’t take time for reflection, and signals that changes are imminent are completely missed.
Slack was the result of a major turnaround
There is another way. In 2009, Glitch was launched, an online adventure non-violence game focussed on collaboration. Together players could create a whole new world. The developers worked from different states in the USA. They discovered that there wasn’t a team collaboration tool on the market that met their needs. So they created one themselves.
Meanwhile, Glitch had about 150,000 loyal players, but it didn’t really take off. After a few years, the team decided to make a significant turnaround. The collaboration tool they had developed seemed to have a lot of potential. They named it ‘Slack’ and launched it in 2013. In the first 24 hours of its launch, 8,000 companies signed up for it. Quickly after that, Slack raised a lot of money and grew into the multi-billion dollar company it is today.
Be open to contrary views
While Lazaridis had fallen in love with his keyboard, the Glitch team took a step back and saw that their original product was less successful than they had hoped for. A good way to prevent tunnel vision is to be open to other perspectives. For example, by listening carefully to your customers, and observing them when they use your product or service.
But the most important thing is to be open to contradiction. There are always people who can pick up on the first, weak signs that something is about to change. Rejecting others’ ideas too quickly should therefore be avoided. To prevent yourself from groupthink, the best thing you can do is to organize people around you with completely different viewpoints.
Slow down to speed up
It is very easy to fall in love with a solution and completely forget about the problem you are trying to solve. It’s human nature to get excited and jump in to come up with a cool solution. The danger is to completely miss changes that happen in the meantime. At times, you have to hit the brakes, look around and observe what is happening. When you do pick up something, you have to have the guts to change course.
This article has been translated from its original version, which was originally published in Dutch on MT/SPROUT.
i would be over the moon if you share your thoughts on this column