Member of RIM Board Opens Mouth, Removes All Doubt

There is an excellent piece on All Things D regarding recent comments from RIM board member Roger Martin. Basically, he is telling the rest of the world that the board actually knew what it was doing, and that the rest of us are “morons” or “children”. Seriously. Apparently the RIM board of directors are the only people on the entire planet capable of determining what is best for RIM. There is a saying: better to be silent and thought an fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. Apparently Roger Martin has never heard of it. The truly sad part is that Roger Martin is actually Professor Roger Martin, PhD, Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. From what I can see, the man has never actually run or built a business, particularly a product-oriented one.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t smart (although his recent comments might give one pause in that regard) and doesn’t mean he won’t have some good ideas. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of actually building and running a business, he is woefully inadequate as a resource.

To me, this recent outburst further fuels my contention that RIM is a company that will be for sale, in whole or in part. RIM is a company in trouble. It has been for a few years now. The company has made, at best, half-hearted attempts at improving. The leadership of the company seemed convinced that consumers would “come around” without RIM having to do much of anything. They over-estimated the value of the Blackberry brand, and seemed content to rely on their enterprise dominance to keep going. But even that last bastion is gone. What RIM gets now is a “more of the same” CEO to replace the founders, and a board member who should know better about making statements and comments insulting the very people he needs to support his company. If RIM is truly intent on rebuilding, then calling the pundits and analysts names isn’t one of the steps on the path. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily wrong. There are plenty of so-called “experts” with no more business experience (actually most with far, far less) than Dr. Martin. These “experts” make money by being controversial. There are a few that do offer true insight and interesting perspectives. But lots don’t.

If RIM is seriously about rebuilding, their first job is to build a better relationship with the media and the analyst community. Either go the Apple route, and release nothing official in advance, or the Google route with a high degree of transparency. Apple engages the media on its own terms, when it wants to. Google seems to keep up a steady, continuous stream of communications when it comes to Android, with both developers and the media. RIM, however, has a habit of pre-releasing too much, too soon and promising things they can’t actually deliver. Their product releases and announcements are non-events. There is little real hype in advance. And RIM has made the egregious mistake of talking about competitors (remember the iPad vs. Playbook video comparing browser speed?). This tactic almost never works. It comes off a bit desperate (see how good we are? see? see?). It becomes a insult to the people you want to convince to switch to your product. They don’t hear a message that says “look how much better our product is”. What they hear is “see how crappy the product you chose is? what are you, stupid?”. As GM and Ford how good their head-to-head comparison videos have worked out. It’s generally a good idea to not insult the customers you want to win over.

Explicitly calling the people you need on your side names is a bad plan. If RIM does want to rebuild, insulting and alienating the people you need to help you get out your message is a pretty sorry way to start out. RIM needs a real plan, and a real way forward. RIM needs to show contrition and confidence. Hot-air and name-calling isn’t the way to do that.