Thinking like a start-up: Oops, what happens when you forget to. Learning from #Nokia

There are a few characteristics that distinguish a start-up.


…and Agility.

Agility means being able to respond to changing conditions and relies on being able to look ahead at what’s on the horizon, while simultaneously keeping your eye on the present conditions.

SCIL is located in a large K-12 comprehensive school that is successfully doing both. There must be attention to the present, but also, an eye on the future. The emergence of mobile technology cannot be ignored, nor can the iPad just be adapted to the physical conditions of the desktop computer. New thinking is required.

Nokia forgot to keep thinking like a start-up. It was ahead of the mobile technology game, but didn’t look ahead. It is now paying the price.

I attended a presentation from an educational academic recently in Finland. She described how the company that was once a market leader, the one that put Finland on the international stage is now a large cumbersome bureaucracy that is unable to make innovative responses to the market shifts.

Nokia had a history of innovation. It had the ability to transition to new markets and opportunities, to see potential in commercialising them and then embrace change. In its almost 150 year history the company has transitioned from paper manufacturer, to rubber products and hydro-electricity. It had successfully extended new products into new markets. This change-remake-respond strategy made Nokia successful and profitable.

Mobile technology made Nokia a globally desirable brand. So what happened?

Nokia seemed to break with its historical self when it let the cement set and determine its mobile device manufacturing become its identity SMH 13 April 2012

As Apple and Google were developing the platform, where the functionality wasn’t limited to one single device, Nokia’s grasp slipped away. Young people in Finland aspire to own an iPhone and now see the Nokia brand as a relic. This is the demographic the company needs to reclaim in order to survive.

There are lessons to be learnt. What does your school or organisation need to do to slide into history just like Nokia?

1. When you are at or near the top, just keep doing the same thing and believing that this wave of success will keep going forever.

2. Put systems and hierarchy in place that make innovation and creativity impossible to emerge.

3. Keep looking inward, admiring your success and oblivious to the changing conditions around you.

4. Don’t even think about encouraging a culture with enthusiasm, energy, resourcefulness and, of course, fun.

Agility is an essential characteristic of an innovative organisation. It doesn’t mean that you divert from or abandon your core mission and values, but it ensures that you are able to read the times and be able to respond, grow and flourish. Schools are in a unique position. We will always need them, but we do a disservice to young people if we assume they will be the same as today in 10, 20 or more years.

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