Mr. Elop, I’m sure by now you’ve read your fill of these opinion pieces. Since your hiring by Nokia was announced, analyst after analyst has offered their view on how you can save the company from impending doom. So I’m not going to regurgitate what’s already been tossed your way.
Instead, I’ll point out where they’re wrong.
The most frequent solution I hear thrown out is that you need to start by changing Nokia’s corporate culture. Well, I’m going to beg you to leave it alone for the most part.
I only worked for Nokia three years, but during that time I found myself in a working environment where thinkers, dreamers and solution-providers can prosper. Where employees felt secure, empowered and emboldened enough to compose scathing criticisms about misguided executive direction, and be occasionally rewarded with real response– as when our bonuses didn’t match corporate results one Spring and the travesty was rectified that Fall after the outcry.
The problems Nokia has experienced the past few years aren’t a product of the rank-and-file culture. They’re a consequence of stiff executive management that too often chose not to listen to the citizens of that culture.
So don’t tamper with the basic corporate culture. Hell, don’t dismantle the frequently-criticized matrix structure, either. Rather, focus your attention on the conservative firmament at the top. The one that’s kept so many powerful innovations (like Maemo and Ovi) clamped down or underfunded. Some people at the top have been exiting… but I’m not sure they’re the right ones.
Playing it Safe
I’ve seen some pundits claim Nokia has taken too many risks, made too many stupid moves. They point to fiascos like the N-Gage (both hardware and service) as proof.
But I’m going to counter by declaring that Nokia hasn’t taken enough risks– at least, not internally. Gambles don’t have to go public– Nokia needs to throw more resources behind developing forward-looking concepts AND thoroughly testing them prior to market launch. That means a willingness to proactively assemble objective trial and focus groups and accept each and every harsh criticism brought forward. The errors of the original N-Gage should never have made it to the market. A ten-year-old could have caught the problems and saved the company time, money and embarrassment at the very least. I’m still betting Nokia could have made the hardware N-Gage work, too, but didn’t make the proper effort.
One opinion I had long held about product development was reinforced by an outstanding course in logistics I took at Nokia (based on this book): that you allocate the majority of your operations to the proven bread-and-butter stuff, sure, but always provide for an entrepreneurial sandbox complete with a pipeline right to your ear. Don’t be afraid to take risks in that sandbox. Don’t be afraid to toss a novel toy out of it now and then and see how it fares. Risk avoiders are guaranteed failures.
Catering to the United States
I’ve been a steady critic of Nokia’s approach to the US market, and definitely agree something needs changing.
But some pundits would like to see a degree of overture that would border on sickening. A company with a solid identity, product offering and strategy should not have to kiss up to virtual monopolists. But Nokia has not been that company for years.
Instead of ceding completely to carrier demands, I would rather Nokia go straight to US citizens, do a better job of investigating and assessing their interests and needs, and then go back to the carriers with a stronger corporate position that naturally includes the right portfolio of products. Then supplement that with an all-stops-off advertising campaign like they’ve never done. Even Microsoft does a better job than Nokia, so perhaps you can bring that in, Mr. Elop.
Many criticizing Nokia’s corporate culture really have no clue what it’s about. I think they make assumptions based on traditional Finnish stoicism. But even as an American there who once reported to Finnish bosses at Nokia, I felt more empowered to make a difference there than I had at any other company. The only thing that gets in the way is a very thin layer of conservatism at the top… and we’re seeing an exodus there.
Ironically, that conservatism didn’t keep Nokia products and services from being released as permanent betas. Nokia needs to commit more resources to entrepreneurial development followed by rigorous internal testing that includes some public engagement and feedback, in order to release fewer (due to better platforming) but more mature offerings.
Once that public feedback is processed into highly-compelling offerings, Nokia won’t have to approach US cellular service providers as a whipped puppy. They could actually dictate certain terms, as Apple did with the iPhone line. Nokia’s expertise in cameras needs to be played up more, for starters, especially in advertisements.