They weren't stupid - so what next?
Boy oh boy did the Chicago press decide to beat up on Motorola (chart here) this week. With the company's announcement that Motorola does intend to split into two seperate entities - by spinning off the mobile handset business - the press decided it was time to unload. Headlines: "Pulling wings apart a risk for Motorola" (link here) - "Expert's advice: Cut red tape and deliver" (link here) - "Motorola breakup ends comeback effort" (link here) - "Motorola must think beyond its batwings" (link here). Reading these articles, you would think the people running Motorola were dullards and miscreants with limited skills and poor business sense. But do you really believe that?
The management at Motorola is filled with very bright, hard working people. Most of them have been quite successful inside Motorola or from outside and recruited in. So the question becomes, if they aren't stupid, how can this happen? As I've blogged before - leadership did a decent job of Disrupting initially, and all of Motorola opened White Space that launched new projects and products. Growth followed. But in mobile handsets leadership allowed the early success of Razr to succumb to old-fashioned notions of maximizing product revenue and profit. Management wasn't stupid, it just listened to the siren's song of "maximize profits by seeking market share and using volume to seek lower costs in manufacturing, sales and distribution." Who would argue with that? It made a lot of money really fast. It just left the company vulnerable to competitors - who acted fast and leapfrogged Motorola. And it allowed Defend & Extend practices, well entrenched in Motorola, to re-instill themselves.
So if management wasn't stupid, what's next?
First, Motorola does need to split. One business needs to keep doing the right things in DVRs, WiMax, headsets and 2-way radios. It needs to keep the funds from its success to re-invest in more White Space projects and not divert money as well as management attention into cellular handsets. The first business is Motorola - always has been - and justifies its brand image. This business is in the Rapids. This business has found ways to Disrupt its old Lock-ins, sell off busineses (like auto products) that don't perform, bring in new acquisitions and set up White Space to find new growth markets.
The handset business needs to get out on its own - and either fail or turn around. Literally. Whereas the other part of Motorola got itself from the Swamp back into the Rapids, handsets isn't just in the Swamp, it's in the Whirlpool. The business would have gone into bankruptcy already if not supported by the rest of Motorola. These two businesses are in very different parts of the lifecycle, and require very different management solutions. So push it out the door and give it a chance, albeit a small one, to turn around.
The handset business needs to start over. New name, and a new leadership team willing to Disrupt abruptly. The key requirement is to so Disrupt the business that old practices are quickly abandoned - since they are what is causing the company to falter. The people, who know they are in trouble, have to see that old Lock-ins to practices like product reviews and technology stability - practices that are seen as good management - are what has gotten them into trouble and they have to be ignored. Those who have administered the best management practices - the Status Quo Police - have to be removed. Those who reinforced abiding by old practices have to go so that new best practices can be created around faster product launches and more market participation.
New handset leadership needs to very quickly give Permission for these bright people to unleash their skills. Permission has to be granted to rethink the technology, the products, the distributors -- all aspects of the business. Handsets can't win by doing what it did before, better. The business has to transform and that requires Permission to break all the rules - and White Space in which to try new things and see what works. Fast.
Great companies learn to let go early and fast. Quite simply, not all ideas pan out. Some products are huge successes, and some aren't. Great companies keep Disruptions and White Space alive - launching new products and services. But if expectations aren't met they cut quickly. They review why things didn't work out as planned, and move on. Maybe too early, or too late, or wrong technology. But move on. Get over it, quit spending where its not making money. Love your launches, but don't marry them. Keep nimble. Look at the businesses GE has entered, and exited, over the last 20 years. But Motorola, filled with truly innovative employees, spent too much energy on the "selection" process, launching too few products for the market to evaluate, and tried forcing them into success far too long. Does anyone remember Iridium (the failed effort at a satellite-based mobile phone network)? The faster the current distraction (handsets) is thrown over the wall the faster the rest of Motorola can get back to Disrupting and growing new Success Formulas in new markets.
And those in handsets have to learn to launch new products while existing products are still growing - and to let the customers decide what technologies and products are good rather than internal vetting and management. Whatever you call your company - you can't move too fast finding a new Success Formula. With the size of ongoing losses, you're in the Whirlpool fast on the way to extinction. It will take serious outside-the-box launches (like Apple launching itself into the music business with iPod and iTunes) to turn around your business. Only by Disrupting - recognizing the depth of your horrible situation publicly and as a team- then giving yourself Permission to overcome all the old Lock-ins and using White Space to redefine a new company can you hope to turn around.
It's not about whether management is stupid. That is almost never the case. The issue is about managing, and overcoming, Lock-in. Those who learn to manage Lock-in by using Disruption and White Space keep themselves in the Rapids. It's really, really easy, however, to follow the siren's call of maximizing profits by letting Lock-in promote reduced innovation, reduced new product launches, reduced distribution experiments while maximizing sales and profits of existing products and services. Only by ignoring those calls can leadership turn around businesses by refocusing on Disruptions, giving Permission for truly different behavior and using White Space to develop new Success Formulas.