Tag Archives: Nokia

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Impressions of “Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change,” by Risto Siilasmaa with Catherine Fredman

Transforming Nokia ties together three business stories I’ve been reading about for years: the history of Bell Labs, the history of cell phones, and the history of Microsoft. The perspective is biased — told from the perspective of the last Chairman of Nokia’s cellular era and first Chairman of Nokia’s networking era — but informative. The book’s only weakness is it feels like a rough draft of a business self-help book glued onto a corporate history — I would take less self-help, and more corporate history.

The last ten years of the cell phone business has seen the death of companies like Blackberry and Palm, while Apple and Google formed a duopoloy.

Two other players in this market where Nokia, with the Symbian Operation System, and Microsoft with Windows Phone. The middle episodes of Transforming Nokia place place during events which made it clear that Symbian was now obsolete, but where it was unclear if Windows Phone provided a meaningful way forward. Windows Phone had less technical debt, better design, better monetization options for the company, and better tooling for engineers.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to combine Symbian’s marketshare with Windows Phone’s modern platform. There was no ability for apps written on one platform to run on another, and seemingly no discussion about this either. Windows Phone entered the market with no apps that could run on it, leaving it a worse library than any operating system. And new apps were written for the new market leaders, Apple iOS and Google Android, which already had share. To have bet the company on two different operation systems, both of which had complementary advantages and neither of which were able to survive on their own, must have been incredibly frustrating.

And not just frustrating — a major failure for another company too. Microsoft’s failure with Windows Phone lead to the firing of CEO Steve Ballmer and new CEO Satya Nadella’a major strategy shifts. Microsoft’s investments in Nokia were scrapped, and even Microsoft’s internal hardware development focused on a sister project, Windows RT, was fundamentally impacted by Nokia and Microsoft’s total defeat in the hardware market.

Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO during its attempted transition, temporarily ran the Microsoft Mobile division it bought from Nokia until Satya gave up on that effort. A lot of the book is given to the perspective of Risto Siilasmaa, who regularly criticizes the actions of the prior chairman while defending Elop, who had been hired by the prior Chairman. It seems that Riisto sees his role as primarily that of chief investor — a position typically taken by the CEO in the U.S. — and not of executive leader — also a role for the CEO in the U.S. While Risto ultimately abandoned the phone as a business, he seems to believe that Elop ran the phone business as successfully as possible given the circumstances.

Ultimately, Nokia sold the phone business to Microsoft, and used that successful sell to buy one and a half real businesses: the half of Nokia Siemens Networks the company did not earn, plus Alcatel-Lucent — Lucent itself being a rebrand of Bell Labs. The history of (Nokia) Bell Labs is tragic. The invention of the semicoonductor made computer miniaturization possible. Terrible leadership clapped itself on the back for changes that lead to the death of its ability to function as a first-class company or laboratory. Four years ago I read the most recent book about the firm, which was “high detailed, impressionist, echoing with nostalgia,” and impossibly beautiful.

Bell Labs – in the form of Alcatel-Lucent — enters Transforming Nokia near the end. Nokia is seeking safety in the telecommunications business, and Alcatel-Lucent is a similarly sized company with similar problems but complementary product lines. What feels like it should have been the most dramatic part of the story — a potential merger-of-equals under French control becoming a takeover of Alcatel-Lucent by Nokia — is oddly downplayed. Perhaps because those events are the most relevant inside the company, Siilasmaa is careful to avoid providing signals as to the company’s future intentions.

I enjoyed the history a lot, and the Siilasmaa’s in general seemed more forthright about Nokia than Satya did about Microsoft. The tone feels closer to very self-critical works, such as We Were Yahoo or Robert X. Cringley’s takedown of the modern IBM. My gripe is that the author uses a lot of buzzwords – phrases like “The Paranoid Optimist” and other jargon is used a lot, and I’m not sure if this is how the author thinks or if he’s planning a consulting career after Nokia. Or just really likes some phrases.

On a personal note I enjoyed hearing about the post-Nokia history of their phone business, called “Devices and Services” in the book. I knew Nokia D&S became Microsoft Mobile, I did not know these assets then formed the core of HMD, the company that made my (current) Nokia phone.

I read Transforming Nokia: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change in the Audible edition.

Impressions of “Kitten Clone,” by Douglas Coupland

Kitten-Clone by Douglas Coupland

Depending on your age and interests, you may know Douglas Coupland for

popularizing the term “Generation X” (1991)
his detailed, and thinly fictionalized, novel of Microsoft two decades ago (1996)
his detailed, and thinly fictionalized, novel of EA Sports Vancouver last decade (2007)
His gallery show, Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything

Kitten Clone combines Generation X’s feeling of being alive after the major events happened, Microsofters & jPod tech sensibility, and Everything’s pop sensibility.

“Kitten Clone” is also interesting, because it completes the histories of Bell Lab’s I’ve written.

Crystal Fire, which I reviewed in 2009, took place in an era where Bell Labs was a scientiifc powerhouse
Life in the Crown Jewel, which I also reviewed in 2009, the first-person account of a corporate official who helped implement many disasterous reforms
and Optical Illusions, which I reviewed in 2010, about the acquisition by the French

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But the wheel keeps turning. Alcatel-Lucent, the purchaser of Bell Labs, has been purchased by Nokia for $16 billion.

And this knowledge, that Kitten Clone is a snapshot of life after Bell Lab’s greatest but not in the after-after Nokia era, is what makes the book moving.

Oddly, near the end, are two paragraphs that relate strongly to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si. Coupland has a gift of writing about right now, whether right now has just happened or is just about to happen:

After leaving Chen’s office, I experienced time sickness as though I really have wormholed into the future. A few hours later, I’m at a dinner in a glass tower above the Bund [in Shanghai], a trillion dollars worth of real estate and LED lighting that blows Tokyo into the weeds. The steaks are from Argentina and cost $100 apiece. There are thirty different kinds of single-malt scotch. The restaurant’s air is cool and fragrant, but the air outside the window is boiling and muggy and has that slightly damaged feeling, like when you see a big car with a large dent in it that makes you wince and say, “Ow.”

“As I sip my drink, I look out the windows toward the power plants that are burning the coal from British Columbia that fuels the air conditioners and elevators and routers and switching devices and laptops and mainframes and hard drives and cell rechargers of Shanghai. The sky is chalked white from particulates, but the glowing skyscraper walls make the sky look like pink water milk.

kitten clone true by coupland

Kitten Clone is high detailed, impressionist, echoing with nostalgia, echoing with the future, echoing with the now.