Oh, Noes! Not Another Ex-Insider's Thoughts On Nokia! (Part II)

Editors Note: This post is the second part of a post we published earlier this week. Do make sure to read the first part before reading this one. The two posts together are an exciting read on some of the reasons why Nokia has ended up where it has.

Managers vs leaders

The manufacturing line mentality also shows up in who Nokia hire. In a factory, good managers control costs and manage efficiency, and workers are interchangeable.

When Nokia decided to be an “internet company”, instead of bringing in leaders and workers with experience and knowledge, Nokia put top managers (with zero Web skills or understanding) in charge (not to mention inappropriate repurposing of coders with the wrong skill-set). I’ve seen a ton of bad decisions in products and services because the division leader (a manager, of course) had no clue what the product was about (but, he was a good finance man, indeed).

Furthermore, the factory line mentality that eats specs on one side and poops out finished products on the other means no one is really able to make sure that the specification were correct (my most hated phrase at Nokia was “as specified”). This also led to zombie products that fail to keep up with the times (zombie example: Download!, which predated the Apple Apps Store by years).

Also, I was frustrated that product management was not able to lead product strategy and direction, but spent most of the time retro-fitting roadmaps and strategy to suit the different, you got it, product lines.

My most used example, the Nokia N96, was a product built with no leadership. It started as a blip on the TV strategy and I watched it get tugged by multiple groups adding to the spec list as it morphed into a “flagship” “everything but the kitchen sink” product. And I was really upset when a top executive lambasted it after launch, when clearly, it was that top executive’s responsibility to make sure Nokia didn’t ship krap products.


The sad thing is that during my time Nokia had all it needed to kick some serious ass in some field other than emerging marketing phones, particularly the fusion of the Web, PC, and mobiles. It just couldn’t get out of its own way and let those products flourish. I like to say that products Nokia kills will take years for others to recapitulate. And by then, Nokia will say “we tried that two years ago and we killed it, so why should we do it again”.

Some really passionate and talented folks left in the Great Exodus of 2009. I can’t help but think it hurt Nokia deeply. Those were the people Nokia didn’t listen to and should have supported rather than driven to leave.

But I’m excited that inadvertently Nokia has made the best investment ever. The folks who left Nokia last summer were folks who knew they could get another job or, as many of them did, start a business. And when their two years of forced exile is over (part of the package agreement), there will be a whole slew of 2-year old companies to buy back into Nokia. The funny thing is that back in 2005 we suggested a similar thing as a way to capture innovations and creativity.

Future perfect?

I left bloodied and bruised from trying to drag a Nokia, kicking and screaming, into the Hyperconnected Age. My passion for Nokia was spent. But I do wish them the very best, as there are still many creative and brilliant folks doing so much good. Which is why I am here, pointing out some things that others have not pointed out.

Nokia’s future is not about lack of understanding or intelligence or even skill. Its future just happens to be on the other side of habits from a manufacturing age, habits that are comfortable and quite profitable, but just happen to be holding Nokia back from being a kick ass company again.

Oh, and Mr Elop, me and my buddies will be available next year in case you want to give us a second chance in transforming Nokia. :-)

The guest post is by Charlie Schick, currently Senior Producer for Children's Hospital Trust, the fundraising arm of Children's Hospital Boston. Prior to that, as Editor-in-Chief, he built and ranNokia Conversations. His career at Nokia also includes kick-starting Ovi.com, launching Nokia Lifeblog and the Series 60 Platform, and providing Internet strategy consulting throughout the company. Prior to joining Nokia, he was an editorial consultant for various online and print publications. In addition to having written numerous articles for online and print telecom publications, he has written various research papers in leading journals and co-authored a book on advanced phone systems. He has a graduate degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

His public personal site is at http://www.molecularist.com/lifeblog.

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Riitta Nieminen-Sundell October 01, 2010

Oh yes, the product specifications... But at the same time, manufacturing electronics does require specs :) Having worked in an ODM programme, I can tell that the carefully written product specification was the only way to guarantee a decent outcome. It is just the unhappy combination of having world-class logistics for hardware AND trying to master agile service development with the very same processes...

Juhani Polkko October 01, 2010

Thank you Charlie for these excellent posts.

Jesus Christ what a piece of crap that N96 was. And how much money was spent on its marketing... I firmly believe that it takes years and years to regain the confidence in Nokia for those poor bastards who sinked 700€ on the device. Based on the feedback I get from some folks, same goes with the N97.

A great example what kind of serious long-term harm can quarterly decision making do.

The Great Exodus was the best thing that has happened to me personally since I moved to Silicon Valley in 2003... It's nice to know there's now a name for it =)

Julien Fourgeaud October 02, 2010

Interesting points.
The manufacturing background and the challenges raising from the culture have definitely had an impact on the company.
However, there are 2 points that should not be neglected:
- the power of networks, enabling some managers to promote their peers no matter their real competencies
- the inefficiency of the HR department. First in setting strict procedure forbidding good elements to progress as fast as their competence improves, second, in its inability in getting rid of the worms rotting the fruits and third by playing with the rules, offering jobs on external market (required by law) knowing that they will not even consider any external candidates, making it really hard for some managers to get new blood.
Again, all of this is connected to the Finnish culture.
I like to compare Finland's private sector to the French public one. They are both seen as places where you get a job for life.
France is learning the hard way that this model is not working.
Would Nokia be the first signs of Finland challenges?

Julien Fourgeaud October 02, 2010

btw, regarding the N96, it was an attempt for Nokia to diversify it's platform suppliers. TI was becoming too arrogant and ST was offering a good alternative.
Again, good on the paper, poor execution because of consensus culture and no leadership.