Your Strategy isn’t what you say it is

strategyI spend a fair bit of my time helping cool innovative new service providers, telcos, and technology vendors get new stuff to market. What that means is I spend a fair bit of my time failing, which also means I spend much of my time learning. Being independent avoids all the internal noise of large organizations, so the learning is quite intense.  I do have an occasional success though, that’s why I’m still in business after 10 years. Successful service innovation can and does happen, all is not lost, we just need to find a way of making it more the norm. Just look at the commercial successes presented at TADSummit this year to see its happening.

Most Telcos claim in their annual reports that service innovation is a strategic imperative.  But in practice their strategy isn’t what they claim. Take for example the simple matter of having a telco provide the WiFi at TADSummit. Corporate marketing blocked it as they did not want their brand associated with TADSummit. I didn’t think it was that seedy a brand. What we’re doing is directly aligned with the company’s stated strategy. Also a simple PR to help promote an important technology achievement is impossible. I could go on but telcos are wholly structured to stifle innovation, its not just the network folks. The whole organization appears in outright rejection of innovation – which means doing new stuff.

The things that work are more the exceptions to the rule, than the rule. Take Orange Libon as an example, in a division that for over a decade has fostered innovation, a small team led by a serial entrepreneur who can work in a big company, with the protection of a product manager that sees their potential, they have flourished so far.

Telcos on the consumer side are designed to support gaming bundles of voice, SMS and data – with the odd fashionable game, piece of content or service. Anything else takes a crazy amount of effort and CxO support else the anti–bodies kick in. The enterprise customer side is only a little better, but again finding product managers willing to take a risk is challenging. Note once a product manager fails they are side-lined, their career is at an end, and given they generally can not move countries because of their families its sort of game-over. Telcos are anti-learning organizations as learning requires failure and failure is not tolerated.

It is easy to fall into a negative spiral, that its all f&@$ed and Telcos deserve what they get, that’s the basic assumption of the Bay Area. However, there are successes Dialog, Truphone, Etisalat, Sinch, Bouygues, Ufone, Orange, Evaneos and many more were case studied at TADSummit. 

Here are few ideas:

  • No senior exec initiatives on services, e.g. Telefonica adopting AT&T connected home – seriously have you seen the reviews on the app store on AT&T’s connected home? Look at the pricing – will anyone except the US (and a segment of the US) pay such prices? Let the people paid to innovate in services innovate, generally senior executives are easily conned by a fervent sales pitch on service innovation.
  • This fashion for telco incubators, seriously, its not you business. Your culture can not support them. They will not achieve scale. There’s tons of stuff working today that telcos should be deploying. And most of the time a service doesn’t succeed in the telco because they killed it, not because the service doesn’t work, as its working elsewhere.
  • Treat the existing business like be a black box – its completely designed to kill anything new. They may claim to want innovation, and have a strategy that claims innovation, but in practice their strategy isn’t what they claim it is.
  • Small x-functional teams, don’t repeat Telefonica Digital.
  • Allow new services to grow before the corporate processes kick in, give them a fighting chance before exposing them to the anti-bodies. Unless you can find a product manager that gets-it (very rare and risky), keep them away from the rest of the organization.
  • Processes stop people thinking, and industry standardized processes are a sure fire way to avoid delivering anything, just waffly high level generic BS. The B2B2X initiatives from some institutions are crap, just don’t go there.
  • Reward action, I see far too many issues remain unresolved as people focus on keeping their bosses happy than delivering new services.  At the end of the year and the new service that you asked them to launch is not launched. Its time to assess if they’ve learned or simply ran around chasing butterflies (fashionable ideas).
  • Only a learning organization can innovate, allow failure, understanding it, learn from it, just not serial failure.
  • Stop this silly career thing. People are paid to do a job, get people focused on their jobs. I remain shocked when people in their 40s and 50s talk to me about their career aspirations. Haven’t they realized “career” is used to keep wage inflation under control. Its a mirage. Too much time is spend on managing careers than delivering.
  • Stop the silly internal battles between CxOs on budgets, set the budgets and execute. Too much time is wasted by critical assets in meetings simply to defend budgets. The budgets are almost the same as last year and the year before. Stop wasting time on non value adding activities / meetings.
  • Fire the corporate flunkies, those who run around meeting bosses whims and chase butterflies (fashionable ideas) that are wholly uncommercializable. Telco 2.0 was a nice idea, but as I shared many years ago its upside is small, and proved in the limit to be unimplementable.

I could go on and on with the list, it reminds me of the saying, “there are many types of unhappy family but only a few types of happy family.” In summary, treat the existing business as a  black box, small x-functional teams, learn from failure do not sweep it under the carpet, do not follow fashion (chase butterflies), follow what makes business sense and copy what’s working elsewhere. TADSummit and TADHack are one of the best sources of relevant innovations you can get. All the material is online: TADSummit and TADHack. If you want an intro to anyone of interest just let me know.