Take-home wisdom that I got from that story:
- Everyone waits until the very last minute before they branch out into a new venture. When that "last minute" hits you, you're already behind the eight ball and have less resources to develop anything new, and if you miss that last minute, then it may very well be the last few minutes for your company...
- Don't sink "desperation resources" into a new project. Don't under-resource it, either. Going all-out to develop an idea or concept at the last minute is going to put you in a do-or-die situation. The New Great Hope is going to save you - or it may well flop. Likewise, under-resourcing the project will most likely ensure a flop, so as with everything in life, find that balance and use it.
- They still dropped a misunderstood potential killer app. Have some faith in your earlier decisions. Follow through. For heaven's sake, have you no faith in yourself? Have you really spent your life making bad decisions? No? Then what the hell are you doing? (Come to think of it, if you did decide to can some new project without understanding it, you probably did make poor decisions on a regular basis...)
- Sometimes, publicity just drops in your lap. (Although, generally, you had to work hard to make sure it did fall there.) Use it. Twitter created the Twitter follower app and placed it in a high profile show, and then other publicity opportunities flowed from that. Twitter did use those opportunities to advantage. I may have hated hearing trite "Biz-isms" in the semi regular emails that came out, but they all helped foster the community that Twitter is based on. And such publicity can't be bought, it can't be obtained like a bag of nuts and bolts, you have to work for it and be ready when it does drop into your lap.
What I'm saying to the companies whose current crops of designs and models are falling on sparse ground is to start doing the hard work of reinventing and changing yourself. There really are no free lunches - if your current model is failing then you either do the work and reinvent, or watch your company die. I will say this - look at how car sales are falling, and how much they're clinging to "tried and true" designs, even though it's now proving bad for their sales and the environment. There's a sector of industry that desperately needs that "last minute" killer app or project.
Yes, certainly they're suddenly sinking money into developing EVs and hybrids, but it's a case of too little, too late, for too little truly new result. All they can do is either produce half-assed and half-supported projects that are destined to fail because, well - they're crap - or else they can throw huge wads of resources at a new project and work themselves up into a "flop sweat" - and still end up with crap because an over-funded project doesn't have the same sense of urgency or parsimony and will burn trough those resources without producing much result.
I predict that despite bailout packages and having all that wealth behind them, the big marques are going to fall in a heap over the next few years. Unless they come up with something truly new and innovative, not all of them are going to get back up again, either. (This is just a random prediction, I'm going to be watching the Big Tin companies and see how they go. It just seem to me that they are the best example of failing to re-invent and failure to put development dollars in the right directions...)
I say this because too many times I've approached companies with a new concept or idea, had the relevant managers smile and sweat and cough nervously, and then beg off doing the hard work because it wasn't "core business model" or whatever other way they wanted to say "we're too chickenshit and too lazy" - and then watched another company quite unrelatedly develop a similar or identical thing and make a killing from it.
Let me put it to you this way - if you were the executive for development at a large car manufacturer and I came to you with half-formed plans for a cheap reliable easy to manufacture and almost energy cost free vehicle - this one based on McFly's hoverboard and a flux capacitor made out of a recycled jam jar, for example - what would you do? One, it would be bad for your "core business model" so you'd not be inclined to work on it. Then, if it's that cheap to make, there's not all that much room to shove a profit in the price. Thirdly, it would be an admission that your own development hadn't been doing anywhere near as well. All in all, your first best bet is to belittle the whole idea, then to grudgingly pay beer money for it, and finally to bury it. Risk managed! Pity about all the shitstorms cars are in now...
So - to all you harassed managers and CEOs out there - this may not look like it but this is the best time to take a punt on new ventures, and in fact it may be your best chance to survive. This really is that "last minute..."