Driving on the RIM

When was the last time you heard somebody use the word “crackberry”?

I recall a Southwest Airlines flight attendant uttering that abstraction when comically ordering passengers to turn off electronic gizmos. It was a period in history with Research In Motion (RIM) was, well, flying high. Their email push technology was new, hot, addictive for road warriors and earned a share price that startled even Silicon Valley investors.

RIM stock has fallen 94% since then.

RIM was a one-trick technology. It certainly filled a need, but offered something that was cloanable, and eventually obsoleted by mass adoption of wireless data plans. Today a cheap feature phone can make IMAP connections to any email server and deliver the same degree of digital addiction that once made RIM famous.

Some analysts claim RIM is now worth nothing except the value of their patent portfolio.

Success often breeds failure. Incessant laurel sniffing leads organization to ignore, or worse yet deny, what is happening to their markets. The first smartphones appeared over a decade ago, showing how very portable computers would change what people could do on the run. Instead of watching, extrapolating and taking action, RIM milked their cash cow until it died from dehydration. Nokia passed them. Apple passed them. Hell, even Microsoft passed them. RIM only recently reacted (as opposed to acting) and have yet to bring competitive products into the smartphone market. Nothing RIM has created in the past few years challenges market leading Apple and Android handsets.

Companies in general, but technology companies in particular, have to watch two things simultaneously. They have to see how to continuously extend their differentiations into new offerings and features. Success should breed more success. Secondly, and more importantly, they must carefully watch how their markets are changing, and leapfrog at the first instance of a threat. Waiting is deadly when your competitors are innovating.

Markets are always moving. You must too.


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