Re-thinking Nokia

It’s quite easy to be prescriptive when you’re in an armchair, but when you are Juhani Risku with over 9 years in strategic positions at Nokia, people tend to take you seriously. Specially when the company you are writing about- Nokia is among the top ten brands in the world, and has been trapped between a rock and a very hard place, even if, they may have innocuous non-threatening names like Google, Apple, and BlackBerry’s official blog at the top and a slew of high feature, low price new players at the bottom-end.

The fall of Nokia, as argued by Risku, summarised effectively in the Register article by Andrew Orlovski- advent of American Agression and Bureaucratic Bungling, are both facile. As someone who has played strategic roles in India, where Nokia is the undisputed leader, and a member of the erstwhile Enterprise Solutions Asia Pacific team, now disbanded, I have had a ringside view of Nokia’s leadership styles and can therefore suggest that Nokia’s current troubles hold the kernel for the next level of success.

A. Finnish Management– meeting Jorma Ollila, then global CEO of Nokia, at the eve of setting up the India manufacturing hub, the largest outside Finland,was an eye-opener. Ollila would not discuss more than 4 things with Dr. Manmohan Singh, and they had to be relevant to the man, the country, the world and the company,and here’s the nub, I had to write it such that it would all fit in a 3X5” card- but that’s another post. While I never met the current CEO Olli Pekka Kallasvuo, his running mate, Pekka Ala-Peitila charmed with the ease with which he balanced hard business with soft personal touch. To understand the Finns, you need to understand their respect for nature. The natural ability to open up, absorb, grow, hibernate, and mull over critical decisions and then rush into action with amazing swiftness.

B. InnovationAnssi Vanioki, also mentioned in the book, typifies Nokia’s innovative thinking. I still remember the first promo film he displayed, as the one he made for Nokia Mobile phones the year Jorma and the board decided to sell off all other businesses and focus on a new business that the company had little core competence in. Nokia was till then known In Europe as a plastic wire and tyre manufacturer, in Finland, as the folks that made waterproof boots, and the rest of the world as the makers of AV displays and Salora TV sets. What Nokia realised ahead of everyone else was that mobile phones would be used by people, surprisingly the others thought they would be used by rocket scientists and engineers . A thought process that led to creating the current and now perhaps antiquated baseline- connecting people! Nokia was thinking 5 years ahead when they brought in express-on covers, bluetooth sharing, camera phones, music phones and fashion phones. But the clock somehow stopped in 2006!

C. Experimentation– Nokia Research Center, and Tero Ojanpera, are again mentioned in the Risku book, but perhaps in overly critical reference. Tero, in an interview in India in 2004, gave out almost the story which we currently gawk at as Pranav Mistry’s Sixth sense in the TED video. The boffins at NRC, would put Q of James Bond to shame, with their experimentation, and ability to production-ise way ahead of market demand. Tero, with his ability to balance extreme brilliance with disarming personal charm, the man comes to India to attend family functions for his erstwhile professors at Delft, has a lot going for him.

So what’s the get-well-quick recipe? Risku gets personal, and mentions the layers in a top-heavy organisation, and even suggests a joint command structure between product development and markets. My take is different!

1. Imagineering- Nokia’s DNA is in design, minimalistic, open to interpretation, something consumers can add meaning to. Just like its name,which means nothing! Nokia’s biggest strength has been to become a platform for people to express themselves. Several fights with influential operators in the late 90’s got them to move away from an open source kind of application approach to a closed loop, app environment via Symbian and Forum Nokia. Back to the basics guys!

2. Focussed action– while the rest of the world were making stodgy business phones, Nokia’s design team went after style, out of a belief set and no market data. Let the marketers create new markets, that’s what they are supposed to be doing. That’s what we did when we launched the game phones, fashion phones, and enterprise phones in 2004-05. Nokia’s traditional Achilles heel from the last century, its logistics and cash flow management, are today its biggest strengths. But it needs to get its act together in taking calculated risks in product and UX design, and enabling the marketers to beat the heck out of competition. Get the tongues wagging, folks!

3. Flexibility– in the land of white pine, flexibility in design with re-usable components have led to addictive user experiences, which enables a Nokia user move intuitively up the model chain. At the frontier of mobile computing, and perhaps under pressure from the under-performing North American market, Nokia allowed its E-Series to follow rather than lead. Nokia next, now needs to leapfrog again and find a unique space beyond push email, and maps.

End-Note: When Nokia started, the giants in radio technology were Motorola, Siemens and Ericsson. Consumer electronics was the domain for Philips and telecoms was something Alcatel or Lucent, then Bell Labs did. Nokia succeeded by being really good at nothing, but getting the recipe right that would delight the consumer, and getting it right in the marketplace. A similar opportunity presents itself again! Can Nokia’s small company DNA surface again to create the path breaking products that won the hearts of their consumers, and the admiration of competition?

P.S. i changed the font for this piece out of nostalgia for the Nokia sans fonts which would open up with every conceivable document format on the official laptop. interesting sidelight on bureaucracy- it took the company 3 years to change the font of the slugline from Times New Roman to Nokia Sans.

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8 Responses to Re-thinking Nokia

  1. If you were to ask a Nokia user why they chose Nokia, It is easy to use. Inventory Management

  2. jvbakshi says:

    I think Apple iphone users, google android users, blackberry users and samsung phone users are all saying the same thing about their handsets. Ease of use is no longer the only thing for a learning society, it is perhaps ease of virality that is important in a social network-ed world. that’s the topic of another post 🙂

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