IBM provided two compelling narratives. One was about what the technology could do for a company. The other was about the difference organized data design could make in achieving it.
When Microsoft introduced SharePoint, there was none of that. Roll out SharePoint and you're rolling out a technology. What you'll get is the same ad hoc folder tree you started with, an ad hoc list of keywords to go with it, and little else.
SharePoint (and, for that matter, the whole content management industry) needs the equivalent of Codd and Date's rules, but for unstructured data -- an organized way to design taxonomies. Microsoft certainly has the talent to provide one. What's lacking? The vision to recognize that this should be part of the package.
When a company sells products, its product managers have to be able to envision them thriving in their native habitats, put to relevant use. If the managers can envision that scenario, they can create compelling narratives to make sure everyone understands what the products will help them do that they couldn't do before and how it will be achieved.
Research in Motion: Execution masquerading as vision
Speaking of visionless leadership, Research in Motion is a case study. Sadly, its new CEO continues the tradition.
Way back when, the earth was young, BlackBerrys were cool, and some of us still used Palm products. BlackBerrys were then a raging success, but with two enormous and very visible weaknesses. The first: Very few BlackBerry users were willing to operate their BlackBerrys as cellphones, due to the form factor, sound quality, and so on. And as those of us who preferred our Palm PDAs knew, you could buy apps for the Palm platform, but very few for the BlackBerry.
Even without the Jobsian level of vision they'd have needed to design an iPhone-like device, it would have taken relatively little effort back then for RIM to make its gadgets more engaging as cellphones and to build an apps market for them. What was lacking?
Lazaridis and Balsillie were Henry Ford's intellectual heirs. Ford had the vision to create the Model T, but lacked the vision to understand that it was the first step in the evolution of the automobile, not the last. Having had his one idea, he kept on repeating it, over and over again. Lazardis and Balsillie did the same.
As for their successor Thorsten Heins, I sure hope he was just being coy when he said what RIM has to do is execute better. If he's serious, I know who RIM needs to execute.
So far as I can tell, RIM has one shot left. It must leverage the only product it has that's still competitive: BlackBerry Enterprise Server. If it figured out a way to add integration plug-ins for "foreign" smartphones and tablets -- that's iOS, Android, and Windows 8-driven mobile devices -- it could survive as an infrastructure company. Its phones and tablets? It might as well stop manufacturing them. It won't sell any either way.