We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost. So, what did we do right?

What Nokia’s boss is reported to have said during the press conference announcing Nokia’s takeover by Microsoft is making its way around. Reading it, and the comments following, confirms again that phrases like “Nothing succeeds like success” need to be applied judiciously. We need to know the context, the background story and, in this case, what the definition of “success” really is. It is not ok to continuously repeat “We didn’t do anything wrong.” There is preventive action, like driving defensively. And there is also contingent action, like insurance. Both are necessary. It seems to me that although we know so, we don’t do so. We always seem to swing from one end to the other.

Nokia_8210_in_light_coverWhenever anyone asks me “So, what’s wrong with that?”, referring to some thought, attitude or action, I ask in return “So what’s right with it?” Not doing anything wrong would certainly be expected of us. But is that all? Just because we didn’t do anything wrong, does it automatically follow that we therefore must be doing something right? Or does the saying “Not taking action is also an action. Not deciding is also deciding” manifest itself? Obviously it does! Others have written before that Nokia didn’t seem to be able to change in spite of knowing that its Symbian system, amongst other things, wasn’t able to cope with digital technologies. It was a great analog system, but as a skeleton, it wasn’t able to support the weight of data we have come to experience and expect today. Entreprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems like SAP face similar issues. The skeleton needs to be changed, renewed, strengthened. Costly? Yes. But have we considered the cost of not changing? The old conversation that has been going around applies here, too, methinks. CFO asks CEO “What happens if we invest in developing our people and they leave?” CEO replies “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?” Yes, I get the smell of rotting wood, too.

I talked about this in “The Change Chimera” previously. Most change we notice are tactical level changes, and they have to do with current operations and ongoing homeostasis. Nothing wrong with those. In fact, they are absolutely essential for staying in business. However, we need to also be able to see things strategically. Most Boards and Leadership teams think they do. My observation is – not enough. Add to that the fact that those responsible for strategy often choose the wrong strategy, not because they think it’s the wrong strategy but because they have mistaken a bad strategy for a good one.

I’ve used Nokia phones before, and I definitely liked them. They were easy to use and pretty well designed. However, every ecosystem has its limits. We need to expand those limits or establish new ecosystems if we are to continue thriving. Maybe Nokia will come back some day. If it does, will it be able to find you still thriving in business? Or would you also be saying “We didn’t do anything wrong”?

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