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Is Apple having its Nokia moment?

‘I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform’, is up there with ‘peace in our time’, as an eloquent, memorable but totally unhelpful thing to say.

It turned out that the Nokia CEO was of course right in 2011 and Neville Chamberlain was oh so very wrong back in 1939. Their hearts were in the right place but the competition most definitely got the better of them.

Re-reading the burning platform memo after what seems like an eternity (but actually is just five short years), I’m struck by how well-written and accurate it was.

It has a driving, pacy narrative (“and, we have more than one explosion – we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fueling a blazing fire around us”), and insightful market analysis.

But as a piece of internal comms I’m not so sure. What it’s missing most of all is a call to action and message of hope that as a Nokia employee I could buy into and get behind. Something I could start doing at 9am the next day.

Was it already too late? I don’t think so. Nokia had an awesome pedigree and strong fundamentals: design, brand, distribution. And there have been all kinds of other last minute phoenix-from-the-ashes stories.

For instance, Lego, now the world’s most powerful brand, twelve years ago close to bankrupt. Their first turnaround, by the book, was about rationalisation; managing the cost base. That didn’t do it.

Their second was about reconnecting with their mission and getting back to doing what they did best. This created a story that colleagues could get behind and still drives the business today. Walk into any Lego store and check out the staff – you know they know exactly what they’re getting out of bed to do every day. They are the brand*. There’s no disconnect.

So Apple… burning platform… really?

Not long ago they posted the biggest quarterly profit in history. They have innovation heritage and a brand to die for. A mountain of cash and a culture with the customer at the heart.

But the flip side. Are they a one-trick pony with stalled demand for their flagship product? Where’s the growth strategy clarity. Right now investors will tell you they’re a post-growth stock. In the short term this could mean share price wobbles, in the long term declining revenues and burning that cash pile.

Compare this to Facebook and Amazon – two companies that I think are doing a much better job of selling their future growth. Apple have a lot of fingers in a lot of pies but any retail startup won’t get funding now unless they can answer, ‘what about Amazon?’. Meanwhile Facebook are well into getting into every part of our lives.

Behind them are another 164 unicorns (FinTechs valued at over $1bn), with a total market valuation of half a trillion dollars. Many will be forgotten before they’re remembered. Many will dominate their sectors like Facebook and Amazon do now.

So, are Apple having a Nokia moment? It would be a very brave person who said yes. But that’s not because they have a divine right to come up with strategy which drives the products and services we all want. It’s because of their culture. The sort of culture that cannibalises a $bn product line (the iPod) so that the iPhone could be the kind of phone which we all wanted and which wiped Nokia out.

Think about it though. If Apple might – just might – need to worry about this, then don’t we all?


*I recommend checking out Lego’s beautifully simple brand framework and their design process.


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