Friday, April 13, 2012

Will Sony Be The Next Kodak?

I just had to share this hilarious video with you. 'Sony Releases Stupid Piece of Shit' from The Onion, is over a couple of years old now and has had well over 5 million views so there's a good chance you've seen it already. But it's only a couple of minutes long, so watch it again; it's so worth it...and poignant!

Footnote to Fear and Paralysis

This makes a neat third and final(?) post in the series that has, up til now used the SageLive debacle as a vehicle to discuss the phenomena of large, well-resourced organisations being gripped by fear when challenged by upstart competition.

These posts have certainly got a bit of attention. Thanks to all who shown an interest and for your comments and thoughts via Twitter et al. 

Ben Kepes wrote a fine follow-up piece over on his Diversity blog (and syndicated to Cloud Ave and elsewhere). In it, Ben interweaves chunks of (part 2), 'Goodbye SageLive, Hello Same Old Sage', with his own experiences of other incumbents in similar circumstances. In short, he confirms seeing the  same phenomena of fear and 'paralysis', all too often.

And so to Sony

This week Sony announced massive losses, with consequent job losses totalling 10,000 globally! This news is of no great surprise to observers of course. Even Steve Jobs hinted at it, as described in his biography. And of course, Apple are always the yardstick for this kind of discussion.

You'll easily find well-researched, qualified analysis elsewhere. I'm gonna put a stake in the ground, right here, right now! It always comes back to organisational culture and the consequent strategy or lack of! 

The very best SaaS offerings have their own type of great organisational culture which includes an ethos where customer experience is paramount. This is a huge differentiator when the whole organisation is totally behind it. Lip service is not enough. It's a cultural thing! Got it?

But I digest (sic). Sony is one of the world's great companies. Their products in various forms have featured in all our lives in a variety of ways, for decades. Their problem is far from unique, but in sharp relief.

They are a massive organisation that grew quickly in very different times. Scroll forward to today and you have a fractious organisation with multiple silo'd 'departments' all pulling in very different directions.

Any strategy they might have appears to be no better than, do everything. The cliché, left hand not knowing what the right is doing, barely seems adequate to describe the extreme, cultural dysfunctionality that now exists: it is a natural consequence of such direction-less leadership.

It Wouldn't Happen at Apple

What has made Apple so different from nearly all other mega-companies (until now at least) is that it's strategy and structure has more resembled the nimble, world-class tech startup. Single-minded and totally focussed on a handful of connected offerings and doing those brilliantly. 

The benefits of an autocratic leadership style is that the whole organisation knows what the company mission is. Not only the employees, but every stakeholder knows and gets their strategy. Customers even buy into it. Try asking Sony employees what their mission is? Let alone (potential) customers!

The best a corporation (like Sony) can do under the circumstances, is a knee-jerk reaction. A tactic that never works because the results won't be good enough. This is ridiculous, given the enormous resources at their disposal, including talent, IP, patents...and cash. They could just buy their way out of trouble with the right strategy.

Instagram Acquisition as an Example

This model has been born out by the news, this week, of the Instagram acquisition by Facebook. Facebook's issue of course, is to not let their platform become so broad that everything they do is not good enough. Many analysts believe that buying Instagram is part of dealing with that issue, asides from other strategic motives.

Besides likely spawning a multitude of me-too photo apps (cos there aren't enough of those right?), what Instagram prove is that a small organisation totally dedicated to producing the very best solution possible, with a very narrow remit, is the way to do it!

Another Kodak  Moment?

In a Tweetchat, Jason Currill remarked, 'another Kodak moment looming me thinks'. This depends. If it means that Sony has a similar, fundamental strategic decisions to make then yes, it is. If it means, 'that's the end of Sony', it really doesn't have to be. 

This is the warning shot. Like all big threatened organisations, they've got enough in reserve to do something about it. They just need to be decisive and play to their strengths. If they do end up like Kodak, that will not only be sad, it would be a crime!

Final Thought

Last night I caught up with Alex King over a couple of beers for the first time in too long. Alex is the knowledgeable MD of The Financial Management Centre, probably the largest network of its kind in the UK. Alot has happened since I worked with him on the conception of The Online Bookkeeper, their online accounting property.

While shooting the breeze, on a broad range of branding, strategy, marketing and analysis subjects, he touched on the tendency of corporate Japan to defer important decisions by engaging in endless meetings. Once again the subject of fear raises its ugly head. All concerned are too worried about making the wrong decision. The consequences of failure are too monumental to be entertained. No-one is prepared to take the lead. The potential result, paralysis and even, god-forbid, a Kodak moment!

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