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The Remaking of Blackberry

Nov. 4, 2013
The smartphone manufacturer can remake itself but a focus on technology alone is not the answer.

As Albert Einstein noted, one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it. That seems to be Blackberry’s predicament as it faces another drop in its stock value. However, with a fresh investment by Fairfax Holdings and a new CEO, Blackberry may have time to reinvent its business model. The new leadership team will need to think differently. It is a perfect time to apply systematic innovation tools to create a new future.

Here’s how.

New Merger Targets: Use the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) technique called Subtraction to reframe and see new merger possibilities. Make a list of the major components of the company (sales force, products, brand, employees, customers, network). Create a phrase like this: "Blackberry has no products, but it has all the other components. What company has the ideal set of products that would best fit the remaining resources of Blackberry?" For example, would a company in data-mining or other information-based services find synergies within the Blackberry enterprise? Companies like LexisNexis, Authernative, and Lifelock come to mind. Continue searching for more insights by doing the same exercise for each component, one at a time.

Reverse Assumption: Don’t just challenge assumptions. Reverse them. This technique helps "break fixedness" and see new options. To use it, list all the obvious business assumptions about Blackberry and its industry. For example:

  • Consumers want more functionality.
  • Blackberry is for enterprises.
  • Cellphones are the dominant form of communication.

Reverse the assumptions one by one. "Consumers want less functionality." Perhaps the new business model is to create stripped down products used by a different market segment. Perhaps Blackberry becomes a system strictly for young people, not enterprises. 

Innovate in Adjacent Markets: Apply systematic innovation methods to stretch opportunities beyond Blackberry's current business model. Ask these questions:

  • What substitute products are non-category consumers using to fulfill the need? Where are they buying it? What complementary products go along with these substitutes?
  • What other products do loyal Blackberry customers buy, perhaps at the same price point or to fulfill the same or similar brand promise?
  • Why do multi-brand customers use several brands? Is it time-dependent? Situation-dependent? Why does it vary? What other products are used when the competitive brands are consumed?
  • What other category of products do Blackberry's competitors sell? How do those fit into their product line? How could they fit into Blackberry’s?

Innovate the Core Competency: Blackberry cannot compete with iPhone and Google on functionality (apps) and design. Instead, it needs to innovate around its core competency of privacy. Privacy is highly valued in today’s environment of government snooping. The trick is to extend the idea of privacy management beyond just data and voice communications.

First, re-frame the problem as: "How do we give our customers more privacy?" Notice the problem statement is devoid of technology, process, product or anything that implies how to do it. Next, apply the SIT technique called Task Unification. This technique forces you to assign an additional job to an existing resource, usually in some counterintuitive way. For example,

  • Applications: Create a list of all key functions and applications now on a Blackberry handset such as email, phone, maps, GPS, SMS texting, weather, contacts, calendar, photos and so on. One by one, create a phrase like this: “The maps function has the additional job of delivering privacy to the user.”
  • Daily Routine: List the parts of an everyday routine: wake-up, shower, dress, take medication, eat, drive to work, check mail, have meetings, call clients, go shopping, drive home, watch TV, eat dinner, go to bed. One by one, take each activity in the day and make the statement: "Blackberry gives me privacy about (fill in the blank)."
  • Entities: Create a list of people and organizations you want to keep out of your affairs: family members, neighbors, co-workers, strangers, government, banks, employers, stores, churches and so on. Once again, take each component and create the phrase, "Blackberry will protect my privacy from (fill in the blank)."
  • Information: List the types of information to be protected: financial, political, religious, demographic, employment, educational, relationship, etc. One by one, create the hypothetical scenario: "Blackberry protects all my (fill in the blank) interests."

Treat each of these phrases as a hypothetical solution and test whether it delivers a new consumer benefit. Only then would Blackberry seek a technological approach to deliver the benefit.

Blackberry can remake itself, but the key will be to innovate its brand promise and be relevant in every part of the consumer’s life. If Blackberry focuses just on innovating its technology, it will succumb to the same thinking that got it in this mess.

Drew Boyd is a 30-year industry veteran. He spent 17 years at Johnson & Johnson in marketing, mergers and acquisitions, and international development. Today, he trains, consults and speaks widely in the fields of innovation, persuasion and social media.

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