In ancient Greece, wreaths of the Laurus Nobilis trees were called “Laurels”. They were considered the ultimate sign of victory, accomplishment, and success. That is why you see so many artworks of Greeks wearing these odd little leafy headbands, they were flaunting some sort of success. With success comes the danger of becoming complacent, or “resting on your laurels”, and allowing your current success to lull you into relaxing a little too much when it comes to your business. A prime example of resting on your laurels can be found in the form of Nokia.
Nokia had a history that started in 1865 with a single wood pulp mill. From these humble beginnings branched into a great many industries from rubber boots to robotics. But Nokia really found its sweet spot in the 1960’s, when they created their electronics department. Nokia allowed it to run at a loss for 15 years, and encouraged their researchers to delve into whatever they wanted. That freedom allowed Nokia to quickly become the expert, if not actually the creator, of mobile communications technology.
For decades, Nokia was on the front lines of mobile technology, the first to release any form of mobile communications, starting with car radio phones 1966 and blasting forward to include the first texting devices. The world’s first fully automatic cell phone system, the first cellular car phones, and the first fully transportable cellular phones. They were also deeply involved in creating the second generation mobile technology that would carry data as well as voice since they were the first to develop standards that allowed international roaming.
In the 90’s, Nokia decided to focus entirely on telecommunications, overhauled the company and their entire supply chain. They continued to hold the number one spot when it came to handheld devices. They developed handsets that were smaller, lighter, faster, and longer lasting between charges than any other on the market. More importantly, Nokia developed the lion’s share of patented technologies that allow smart phones to actually work in the first place.
Unfortunately, this is where they started to rest on their laurels and their breakneck and front-running research and development simply ceased. For some reason, Nokia stopped being the first at anything once smartphones became fairly standard, and instead started branching out into other consumer electronics. They never really entered the app markets or developed app stores for their products, they stopped innovating their hardware and software, they just… stopped.
They were the best of the best, even the almighty Apple Inc. couldn’t touch them when it came to market share or technology. Until the day they suddenly weren’t. The technology had passed them by while they were riding the wave of past success. They found themselves in the position where they were acquiring other companies to meet their needs, instead of developing their own technologies. Soon they found themselves needing a partner to survive and finally was simply bought out entirely by Microsoft.
So what did Nokia do wrong?
Nothing really. It is not wrong to enjoy your successes, to sit back and look at how well your business has done. There is nothing wrong to drink a little wine and have a steak dinner because everything is an absolute perfection. But, a business, must be wary of forgetting to return to its core and ask the most important question, “what’s next?”, before someone else beats you to it!!
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