When I read about the partnership between Microsoft and Nokia, I couldn’t help but think about Lou Gerstner’s book “Who says elephants can’t dance”. In the book, which describes how Lou saved IBM from collapse in the 90s, Lou likened IBM to an elephant on the dance floor, whose size limited its dancing agility; and he likened IBM's competitors to nimble ants that danced extremely well and took over the dance floor. Putting this simply, the larger a company is, the slower it responds to changes and the harder it is to keep up with the industry and remain profitable. Thus, while product managers in big companies are still polishing their PowerPoint presentations, smaller and faster companies might be able to push out new products quickly in response to the market.
Nokia and Microsoft are two such elephants. Nokia is the giant in the mobile phone industry, Microsoft had the highest Smartphone software penetration. However, they both allowed faster competitors to take over their dance floor. From reading Lou’s book, it is inferred that IBM’s major problem was all the policies and procedures that comes from being a big company – proposals took a long time getting through supervisors to top management and became obsolete by execution time. Executives wasted their time with trivial issues such as signing off on the color of an office carpet, while the important issues lay in a folder on their desk or in their email boxes for days. Nokia's CEO Steven Elop seems to think the same about Nokia. In his letter to employees, he says “We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally.” The key words are "deliver innovation fast". Nokia missed it for so long, and for the smartphone industry, if you're not fast, you're done!