What does Google Maps on iPhone mean for Blackberry?

UPDATE January 19, 2012:  Looks like RIM is embracing the fact that their core business isn’t necessarily making handsets: RIM to allow BB email on iPhone and Android

This Wired article, talking about why Google would help make iPhone even better, by putting Google maps on iPhones, got me thinking.

Why Google Just Made iPhone King: Ads

He is absolutely right, of course. Google’s core business is advertising and Android is mainly a means to an end for them. By enabling iPhone (and my beloved Blackberry) Google is keeping its eye on the big picture.

But what if Google had a bigger need to drive Android handset sales? Would they withhold Google apps from iPhone then, trying to drive users to Android? My bet is no. Because it would be a losing game. You win in handsets by delivering the best all around handset, not by making minor dents in how good someone else’s is.

Someone in my Twitter feed called iPhone “the best phone on the planet“. Many would agree with him. That’s why iPhone is so popular. Google is smart enough to know that one map application wouldn’t change their minds. If Google wants to win in handsets, it will win by making handsets that more people consider “the best“.

Which leads me to RIM. RIM’s strategy seems to be to compete in handsets. With BB10 they are trying to win back customers who have defected to iPhone and Android, hold onto those of us who still prefer Blackberry, and maybe even convert those who have never used Blackberry. Will they win? How much of each group is reasonable to think they will win?

Much as I adore my Blackberry and all its predecessors back to my first little pager in 1999, I know I’m not the mass market. I don’t like touch screens. I type a lot – to search, write, communicate, make notes, you name it. My thumbs are always on the keyboard tapping away. I view/listen/watch much less than most people so I value the keyboard more than screen size. I’m not a game player so I don’t worry whether they’re available for my device. But RIM can’t survive on oddballs like me alone.

They can – and should – maximize their corporate sales, where communication and security are essential, and maybe that’s enough to make them the Betamax of handsets. (That’s NOT a bad thing, by the way. Betamax lost the mass market but was highly profitable in specialty video markets where video quality mattered more than the recording time that drove VHS’s consumer success.)

But what if RIM were to rethink what their core business is? What if the answer turned out to be secure communication software, and mobile keyboard technology? Imagine a market where iPhone or Android devices were available with Blackberry software and keyboards. What would that look like? Would Apple use them? They’re embracing Google maps, so you never know.

Food for thought.

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How mentoring others helps me

This is a cross-post of a piece I wrote for the CanWIT e-Mentoring program’s blog. I mentor three women through the program, and the program’s Community Manager, Colleen Fraser, asked me to write about what I get out of  being a mentor. Here is my response.

Doing What I Know: What mentoring does for me

Long before I realized that I was a geek who loves technology, I was a French Horn player. Throughout high school and my music degree, I studied with a teacher who influenced me in more ways than just my ability to produce beautiful music from a coiled brass cone. My horn teacher was a major influence on me, and to this day his words often come to mind in my business life.

Among the things he often told me was this:

“It’s not that you don’t know what to do. You just don’t do what you know.”

Only now, those words have even more meaning because as a mentor I find myself giving advice that I need to remind myself of as well.

Mentoring others benefits me in many ways, but as I reflect on some recent experiences I’m struck by how much mentoring others is a reminder to “do what I know”.

Case in point. One of the women I mentor through CanWIT’s e-mentoring program was struggling with how to package herself to get noticed and valued by potential employers. She was dealing with a dilemma I often have as well. Her skills are both broad and deep, and there are many roles she could love and excel in. If she describes herself too generally, though, she won’t resonate with employers seeking a particular subset of her skills. But if she targets too narrowly, she won’t be noticed by those wanting skills she hasn’t highlighted. So what to do?

It’s an issue I’ve wrestled with as well. I excel as a product development leader, but also in business development and marketing. I’ve achieved great things leading teams in large bureaucracies, but also as a maverick individual contributor aligning others only through influence. Which Sandi should I promote?

It’s easy when there is a known, posted opening because we can tailor to the position. But most jobs aren’t posted so what about more general communications? When networking, people say, “What do you do? What role are you looking for?” Telling them, “It depends” doesn’t get us very far.

As I talked with my mentee, I found myself relaying a marketing class experience where the goal was to select a target segment and position the product for them. Most in my workgroup struggled with concern that we would miss most of the mass market by choosing a target segment, but it was clear to me that we would miss ALL of the mass market if we didn’t target anyone. By explaining what our product could do for one segment, we inspired the others. Now they could see the product’s value and come up with their own use case for it.

I’d seen that many times over, presenting potential uses for technical products to businesses and watching the magic as the customers began to chat amongst themselves about how it could work in their business. I felt cocky because my classmates were learning something I’d known for ages.

I didn’t feel so cocky when telling the story to my mentee, though.

I couldn’t, because the story was reinforcing what I’d been doing wrong in looking for a job or projects for my company. I wasn’t giving my target markets much of a clue what I could do for them. I was hoping they’d see a list of “Sandi product features” and figure out how they could use me.

Why? Because I was afraid that by defining my value to any of them, I’d miss out on the rest.

It’s not that I didn’t know what to do. I just didn’t do what I know…

By teaching what I know to someone else, I reminded myself what I know about product marketing and realized I wasn’t doing that for “product Sandi”.

I think this is one of the most valuable things about mentoring, and another recent experience reinforced it as well.

I had the opportunity to get advice from a very senior executive – a successful CEO and board member who was generous enough to give me some of her time. After she’d given me a bunch of really valuable insights, she asked for my feedback on HER resume. Yikes! I was nervous. What do I know about a CEO/Board Member resume, I thought? How could I possibly add value? But it was the least I could do in return so I said I’d be happy to.

She sent me her resume, and as I stared at it (marvelling at how effectively she had summarized decades of experience on only 2 pages), something stood out to me as missing, one of the basics of resume writing. I wasn’t sure it would apply to a CEO, and I was nervous that she might see my feedback as evidence that I’m not at her level, but I bit the bullet and sent her a note telling her what seemed to be missing, Her response?

“You’re right… don’t know how many times I’ve told others that”

Wow.

It’s not that she didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t done what she knows. Just like I sometimes don’t. Like we all sometimes don’t.

And so it goes. Even the best of us don’t always do what we know.

Mentoring young colleagues, and even advising someone senior to me, gives me a chance to look at myself through a different lens and to hear myself offering the advice to others that I myself need most.

Mentoring reminds me to “do what I know”. I’m grateful to those who accept my mentorship for those reminders. I can only hope that they get as much from our interactions as I do.

Challenging conventional wisdom in product development

This article from the May 2012 Harvard Business Review looks at 6 myths of product development and they are right on the money.

Six Myths of Product Development

Two of the myths especially resonate with my experience:

Fallacy 3: Our development plan is great; we just need to stick to it.
In all our consulting work and research, we’ve never come across a single product-development project whose requirements remained stable throughout the design process. Yet many organizations place inordinate faith in their plans. They attribute any deviations to poor management and execution and, to minimize them, carefully track every step against intermediate targets and milestones. Such thinking is fine for highly repetitive activities in established manufacturing processes. But it can lead to poor results in product innovation, where new insights are generated daily and conditions are constantly changing.”

And

Fallacy 5: The more features we put into a product, the more customers will like it.
Product-development teams seem to believe that adding features creates value for customers and subtracting them destroys value. This attitude explains why products are so complicated: Remote controls seem impossible to use, computers take hours to set up, cars have so many switches and knobs that they resemble airplane cockpits, and even the humble toaster now comes with a manual and LCD displays.”

These two myths are responsible for a lot of the PD I’ve seen go wrong.

To combat Fallacy #3, we have to recognize that we can never know everything we need to from the start, and keep reviewing what we know at every stage. A lot of people tout the Agile development method as the fix for this, and it can help but Agile alone won’t do it. Without strong leadership from the Product Development team and continuous review of customer and market requirements, technical expert feedback, and the competitive landscape, Agile alone will just get you to an ineffective product quicker. With that said, it is also critical that PD not change requirements without very good reason, as the changes usually add time and cost (and drive the tech team crazy!) It’s a balancing act.

Fallacy #5 is a very popular belief but it doesn’t take much examination of the products we enjoy using to realize that too much complexity for the customer can prevent adoption and too much complexity “under the hood” can add costs and potential for things to break. Here again, a balance is essential. Consider designing for features but not implementing until/unless the market really wants them – advance planning so they can be added later without going back to the drawing board. And consider your target user. If most of your market wants simplicity, make sure they get it. Hide advanced options if you want to make them available for power users, but keep in mind – we don’t always care about every feature we think we might want. Research, market test and evaluate carefully before committing to too many features. Elegant simplicity can be a big winner.

Check out the Harvard article for more advice on these and other product development myths.

UPDATE DECEMBER 6 2012

Here’s an interesting example of the need to keep it simple from ProfitGuide.com:

Founded in 1999, ClearFit originally catered to large multinationals, selling sophisticated applicant-screening software to their HR departments. After a few years, the partners decided to adapt their system to small businesses. But the resulting product, loaded with features, made explaining it to prospective clients feel like “a slow ache,” Baldwin recounts.

One day, an outspoken customer said to the owners, “Guys, you need to change your game.” The system simply had too many bells and whistles for small firms to navigate. It was an aha moment. “The harder you work on a product, the easier it is to get away from your customer,” reflects Baldwin today. “The technology doesn’t matter if the patient doesn’t desire the medicine.”

(ClearFit is a Toronto-based company that helps employers find the right applicant to hire.)