Following on from my comments about Motorola's lack of sustainable returns after the successful launch of the RAZR, the Independent reports that
Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, looks to be streaking ahead of its main competitors with Motorola saying it expects to lose money on its core mobile phone division this year after losing market share over the past few months.
It seems that the entrepreneurial flair that forced the idea through the system did not survive the transition of the people back into the mainstream. Certainly my experience of working on a skunkworks project is that even as the team breaks up and people go their separate ways is that keeping the creative juices going is truly difficult as the cultural characteristics and behaviour overwhelms the individual. Rewarding the individuals can actually increase the system's fightback as it tries to reimpose habitual behaviour.
Another article writes
Think about this - the team failed from a timeline perspective, a marketing perspective, a pricing perspective and didn't align to existing product development methodologies, materials or project norms.
In other words, the team failed to follow any of the organization's guidelines and expectations and cultural norms and created a huge hit. As the article points out, the team that designed the RAZR "broke the mold".
By this I think the author means that the team operated in a manner inconsistent or almost at odds with the existing corporate culture and expectation. Since the article points out that in 2002 and 2003 Motorola was in poor shape financially and with its product portfolio, what other option existed? The design team could have accepted the "status quo" of the Motorola design and development culture, or they could have chosen their own path. It only seems logical in hindsight to question everything about the then-current Motorola process and to seek ways to change it.
But while the team has been successful, the important question one must ask at this junction is - is it sustainable? Is there a culture, a program, an organizational fabric which improves product innovation at Motorola, or did a bunch of random opportunities coalesce to create a great, one-time suite of products that can't or won't be repeated? Will Motorola break the mold and create a new way of thinking and a new approach across its design team, or will the majority of the organization simply look at the RAZR design team as renegades and return to the old ways of doing things?
I happened to meet several Motorola design engineers and product developers recently. In our discussions, what was clearly their biggest challenge to new product innovation was - corporate culture and change.
So the problem is how innovation (change) within the leadership process gets embedded rather than product per se.
How do we make sure projects gain momentum before the corporate antibodies try to kill it?
How do we allow behaviours like those described here become accepted practice?
The RAZR's edge article in Fortune has interesting insights such as:
What the unsung team of heroes knew, however, was that the actual story of how the RAZR came to be is even more compelling than, if not quite as glamorous as, the version Frost had peddled.
In reality, the RAZR - a play on a code name the geeks themselves dreamed up - was hatched in colorless cubicles in exurban Libertyville, an hour's drive north of Chicago. It was a skunkworks project whose tight-knit team repeatedly flouted Motorola's own rules for developing new products.
They kept the project top-secret, even from their colleagues. They used materials and techniques Motorola had never tried before. After contentious internal battles, they threw out accepted models of what a mobile telephone should look and feel like. In short, the team that created the RAZR broke the mold, and in the process rejuvenated the company.
The mood inside Motorola was grim in early 2003. Nokia (Research), whose "candy bar" phone designs were all the rage, had snatched Motorola's No. 1 worldwide market share, and wireless operators were decidedly underwhelmed by the models Motorola had to offer.
The outlook was equally gloomy for a veteran Motorola engineer named Roger Jellicoe. An Englishman who'd lived in the Chicago area for nearly 20 years, Jellicoe had worked on numerous Motorola phones, including the StarTAC, the company's last monster hit, in 1996. But Jellicoe, 50, who sports a pale-brown salt-and-pepper goatee, had recently had a project yanked out from under him, a high-end phone targeted for overseas markets that had been reassigned to a Motorola design center in Beijing. He was, quite literally, between assignments.
Fortunately for Jellicoe, another project was percolating. Engineers in Motorola's concept-phone unit had mocked up an impossibly thin phone - at ten millimeters, it was half the girth of a typical flip-top - and Rob Shaddock, a senior wireless executive, was casting about for an engineer to lead the team that would commercialize it.
Jellicoe aggressively promoted himself for the job and in the spring of 2003 manoeuvred a dinner with Shaddock to make his case. They met at Firkin, a cheerful pub in downtown Libertyville with better-than-average food and 24 beers on tap.
Uploaded by turbohamster . All rights reserved.
In advance Jellicoe had drawn up sketches of what the phone might look like (drawings that bear a striking resemblance to the RAZR today). Midway through the meal, Shaddock told Jellicoe the job was his.
The article finishes with
Last July several key players from the RAZR development team were asked to appear at a meeting of top executives at company headquarters. They weren't told why.
"Even when we were sitting in the room waiting to be called in, nobody was really quite sure what was going to happen," says Tadd Scarpelli, the young engineer who designed the RAZR's antenna.
Then, as the team members filed in, the executives awaiting them rose in applause, delivering a standing ovation - followed by news that the team members would also be rewarded with a boatload of stock options.
"It was surreal," says Scarpelli, who to this day approaches strangers in airports and asks them if they like "his" phone. Successful rule breakers, after all, have certain privileges.
Unfortunately it seems that this did not help fill the innovation funnel with great ideas that became winning products. Innovative ways to change highlights the challenge of lasting change; As I've quoted before Bill Buxton states