Blackberry’s 10 Reminders For Market Leaders

Mark Di SommaSeptember 27, 20132 min

1. The distance between ubiquitous and anonymous is shortening. In 2009, Blackberry was named the fastest growing company by Fortune magazine. Just four years later, it was less than 3% of the market.

2. If you’re not driving the speed of innovation in a market, no matter how far in front you are right now, the market will overtake you.

3. The first word is not the last word. Having an innovation doesn’t protect you from the next innovation, because, to quote Alex Goldfayn, “gravity pushes backwards”.

4. If your innovations don’t align with where your key customers are heading, to reference Wayne Gretzsky, there’ll be no-one there who matters when the puck arrives.

5. Every market leader thinks they can spot the disruptive change in an industry and that, once identified, they will then be able to quickly catch up and overtake the competitor. They seldom do.

6. An extensive IP portfolio won’t save an ailing company because it only protects what you’ve developed. If what you’ve developed is now unwanted or unuseable, it’s practically worthless.

7. Growing markets don’t always continue to grow where they have grown in the past. Blackberry totally missed the rise of the consumer as the champion of the smartphone, the power of apps to revolutionize devices and the shift of phones to personal hubs. In short, they were Black Swanned, big time.

8. There’s no such thing as a quiet market leader. If you’re not talking to your customers and to the market, increasingly you are generating a void that others will fill.

9. You’re only as innovative as the people who think you forward. As Mike Myatt wrote in this article in Forbes, “Businesses don’t fail – Leaders do”.

10. Customers are responders not innovators. They can make you a market leader, but they can’t help you take or keep the lead. As Clay Christensen put it, “when the best firms succeeded, they did so because they listened responsively to their customers and invested aggressively in the technology, products, and manufacturing capabilities that satisfied their customers’ next-generation needs. But, paradoxically, when the best firms subsequently failed, it was for the same reasons — they listened responsively to their customers and invested aggressively in the technology, products, and manufacturing capabilities that satisfied their customers’ next-generation needs.”

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Mark Di Somma


  • Jeff Halmos

    September 28, 2013 at 6:18 am

    Fantastic list! Quite thorough and something leaders and brand/marketing/PR soldiers should read twice a year.

    I’d only add to/modify #7 in that, RIM (their name at the time) owned the business smartphone category. OWNED it. Though, they didn’t specifically recognize that fact. Then took their eye off that ownership as they went after Apple who was going after the non-existent/nascent consumer category. RIM ended up causing delays in their business line, wasting money on development, production, and advertising, and took so long doing it that they were instantly a me-too in the consumer category, watering down what consumers thought of and knew of the company.

    Ipso fatso, #7 connects to #10 in that RIM didn’t seem to give a damn what it’s customers thought. They didn’t care about the consumer category and as I remember, fought against and hated those offerings (The Storm was appropriately named), culminating in the email disaster of 2011.

    However, we must acknowledge the Apple model when discussing #10, in that they don’t listen to consumers when it comes to innovation, at least, not at the beginning of the cycle. Steve Jobs famously saying that we don’t know what we want until we see it. And as we all well know, design by committee (a word that could only be designed by a comity) always ends up with a camel or a platypus (think: Microsoft).

  • markdisomma

    September 28, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Good point Jeff. The key thing I think is that you can’t look to what you’ve done or what customers have had, or even have right now, for evidence of where you need to go next. That – and, as you rightly point out, brands don’t always recognise a great thing when they see it, especially when they’re the only ones seeing it …

    Thanks for your comments

  • Robert Hutton

    September 28, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    The simple fact is Blackberry’s failure is due to one thing, and one thing only.

    They ignored the customer.

    This will be analyzed and commented on to death as everyone tries to take a piece from the Blackberry corpse to show what a crystal ball expert they are.

    It all boils down to losing their connection to the customer.

    Blackberry was a tech company. That was problem number one. Everyone else was a consumer company.

    Lose the customer, nothing else matters, and every other cause is secondary, consequential, or irrelevant.

  • markdisomma

    September 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    I agree with you Robert. I’m always interested though in why, how and where companies lose sight of their customers. The hope is that brands will learn from the mistakes of others. The fact is, of course, they seldom do.

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