Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Nokia's CEO can actually handle bad news about competitors!

Culture is a huge issue in competitive intelligence. It all comes down to whether your organization can handle good news AND bad news, or just the happy "We're number one!" sunshine reports. If a corporate culture can't maturely deal with both positive and negative information, real intelligence is nearly impossible.


This is probably worst in America. In the words of former Senator Adlai Stevenson “You will find that the truth is often unpopular and the contest between agreeable fancy and disagreeable fact is unequal. For, in the vernacular, we Americans are suckers for good news.” In all but the most sophisticated companies, good news goes up the chain and earns a pat on the head, while if you try to pass along negative information about your competitive position, people may say that you're "not a team player."


That said, get a load of Nokia's new CEO in a memo to his company about the competition in the smartphone market!


"The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable."

What? A CEO saying to the entire company that they are headed in the wrong direction and honestly assessing the position of their competitors in public? These are the Finnish, a wary and shrewd people historically surrounded by aggressive empires and bitter cold. Their skeptical nature is what led them to get into cell phones at the end of the Cold War, realizing that the end of the USSR could mean the end of their business - and they acted boldly to make new investments.


Want more? Check out the brutal honesty:

  • "...there is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem."
  • "They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range."
  • "Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry's innovation to its core."
  • "We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market."
  • "...Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements..."
  • "Our competitors aren't taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem."
  • "We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally. Nokia, our platform is burning."

Read the whole thing.


Now tell me, does a culture of competitive intelligence come from the top, or what?


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This brual honesty and ability for self-criticism is the hallmark of a learning organization.  Stephen reflected the same spirit and attitude when he was at Microsoft, as do most of the the senior executives.  This has enabled a rather unique model of field generated win/loss reviews that does indeed rely on the capacity for self-criticism of our field sales teams. And you're right, the culture that allows this is really set from the top. 


Where I might disagree is that the appetite for good news is not just an American phenomenon, but a human one. There are cultures much more averse to discussing and exposing the bad news than in America.  What may influence the perception is that Americans probably do a good job ringing the bells when there is reason.  Regardless, leadership sets the tone regardless of which country we're talking about.  BTW, Mr. Elop is Canadian. 

Reply from Ty Kefauver: Nokia is where Motorola was in 1997-98.  Motorola invented the cell phone and dominated the market for many years.  Motorola missed the overnight movement of the cell phone becoming an affordable consumer product for the many rather than a high cost, high tech device for the elite.  They also missed the rapid change from analog to digital devices.  As a result Nokia became the market leader in one year and has never looked back as far overall total handset sales. During Nokia's reign it has held its traditional competitors such as Motorola and Sony Ericsson is distain.   Now Nokia, which saw its global dominance in handsets as an entitlement, is faced with new well-funded competitors who are offering trendy smartphones that are superior to Nokia's devices. The new CEO knows this and will be making a lot of major personnel changes soon, but Nokia's brand has been tarnished and regaining share from Apple and Google Androids will be difficult.  The real CI question to ask is who will be the next big player in the dynamic handset market?  .       

Great topic, Eric.


Culture is something one builds in time. It's something shared by every member of a group. This is why I believe that a culture for competitive intelligence must shared by all employees, all members of a team. Of course that the CEO (the entire C-level) should foster the CI spirit but unless the organization supports him, he might as well be gardening or playing golf.


Now, to the memo itself. Doesn't the text strike you as similar to the ice-berg melting concept of Mr. Kotter? I believe that Nokia's CEO just gave the signal for what's next: a massive change management program. I've just analyzed the words he used in the text and believe that he and his team did a great job of hammering in some key words:

1. Platform

2. Market

3. Share

4. Burning

5. Nokia

6. Man

7. One

8. Percent

9. Range

10. Developers

The first 100 most frequent words are here


As such, I strongly believe that the memo is about more than CI. It's about Nokia's imminent move to a new software platform, a new corporate structure, a new attitude and - in time - a new culture.


Thank you for posting this most interesting article and adding your as always, insightful points and key takeaways. Speaking from the vantage point of years of experience in CI at both a firm where the culture was receptive to bad news and proactive, and one that was in denial about their real competitive position and reactive- I've certainly found culture to be of the most important elements relative to CI's viability with the other two key variables being proper functional alignment and reporting at a high enough level to have credibility and visibility to the executive decision makers.

That said, to some of your specific comments:

EG: " It all comes down to whether your organization can handle good news AND bad news, or just the happy "We're number one!" sunshine reports. If a corporate culture can't maturely deal with both positive and negative information, real intelligence is nearly impossible."

MN: I wouldn't say that intelligence is impossible in this kind of a firm, I would say getting action on the intelligence is what is impossible. A good CI team/person can come in and hand execs at a firm with this type of behavioral profile (which also tends to go hand in hand with being reactive and at least somewhat in denial) all the accurate and insightful Intel in the world, they just aren't going to do a thing with it even if they say they want to. So, it isn't that real intelligence is impossible in my view, its getting any real action; and you cant get the action because more often than not there also doesn't tend to be any solid planning processes or mechanisms for using the intelligence.

EG: In all but the most sophisticated companies, good news goes up the chain and earns a pat on the head, while if you try to pass along negative information about your competitive position, people may say that you're "not a team player."

MN: Very true, spot on and I've found most of this pushback occurs with lower-mid level folks who have a vested interest in trying to put forth the rosy view because that way it shields their lack of knowledge, poor performance.

EG: Now tell me, does a culture of competitive intelligence come from the top, or what?

MN: Without question, it works in no other way.

Kind Regards,


The post reminds me of the time when we were just students undergoing a lesson in 'Business Strategy and the role of Competitive Intelligence in the Information age' during our MBA days.
The single most important trait of a true blood CI professional as per our Professor, is honesty and Integrity that surpasses the concern for management appetite for hearing what their ears would like to hear.
Being candid about one's weaknesses vis-a-vis competitor's strengths is something that is expected of a CI professional, irrespective of how the Design & Development or the Marketing team would take it. The true essence of Competitive Intelligence is but the communication of Truth, inspite of fears of disappointing a certain consumer of Information/Intelligence. On the psychological front, this honesty can bring about a sea change in the perception of colleagues who would be willing to take decisive action owing to the motivation generated by a peer.
Its something like the time when Krishna says to Arjuna in the Bhagawad Gita, about the formidable odds that he faces, and yet he will emerge the winner if he choses to embrace the truth and act in accordance with his conscience.
In a market like India, Nokia continues its reign despite the tremendous competition generated by Android based phones as well as Apple. But what makes Nokia a popular choice in the mammoth rural market is, the robustness, the sturdy hardware and the ease of operation. Not to mention, Nokia has a largest after sales service network, making it the most popular choice for a developing and steadily growing countryside user. I guess dependability rules here, be it the Nokia CEO, the Nokia Cellphone or eventually the CI professional.


Eric: Transperancy is something that can be made a part of organisational culture in a Top-to-Bottom approach. If the management practices it without creating a certain degree of discomfort for the CI professionals, there is much more to gain, and nothing to lose.
Monica: I m in total agreement with what you said about the behavioural aspect. I hope the organisations of the future would take the truth generated by CI a necessary input to their business strategy in a highly dynamic marketplace.

And here is the after effect.


Nokia ties up with Microsoft to tackle Google and Apple.


Truth not only makes you free, it helps build new business ties as well..


Impact of  New Emerging Technology in Influencing Consumer Behavior


Impact of  New Emerging Technology in Influencing Consumer Behavior

1. Babyboomers

2. Generation X

3. Generation Y

4. Net Generation

5. Mobile Generation

1. Babyboomers

Their average age is 55 years. They have been experiencing technologies since the last 30 years. These were the entrepreneurs who had a role to play in the evolution of new technologies. On an average, 25% of these customers are active computer users and use technology at work and otherwise. They make use of their affluence. Approximately 80% customers use word processing applications for communicating through formal and informal letters and on an average 60% of these send and receive emails on a usual basis.

2. Generation X

Their average age is 29. They were the first to experience new consumer technologies like personal computers, computer video games, 24/7 news, CDs, satellite TV, mobile phones associated with business and personal digital assistants. Their key values are individualism and self fulfillment. They are malleable, culturally incisive, commercially knowledgeable and highly brand conscious. Generation X is used to coping with new technologies, they are more keyed into design and fashion and are likely to keep this habit for a long time.

3. Generation Y

Their average age is 18 years. Their childhood was filled with advent of nascent modern technologies. This Generation Y is used to Palmtop computers, cable TV, console gaming games, the World Wide Web, mobile phones, digital cameras, e-commerce, digital TV and the omnipresent personal computers. They have seen the launch of Space Invaders and Pac Man.

4. Net Generation

Their average age is 15 years.  Net Generation has experienced maximum number of technologies. The pace  and intricacy   of the technology market is being harnessed  and exploited by them. Net Generation is self-assured, insatiable  and investigational towards technology. Net Generation has become habituated to  Windows, PowerMacs, e-mail, Playstation, palmtop computers, mobile phones, WAP, text messaging and broadband. Sony Playstation was released in the US. The gaming experience was further improved by the introduction of joysticks and steering wheels. Wing Commander III and the Heart of the Tiger were released which featured for the first time full motion video. Barbie Fashion Designer was launched and this created a new generation of girl games.

5. Mobile Generation

Their average age is 8 years. This generation will experience true intelligibility of technological interfaces and ever-present communication. This Mobile Generation is already habituated to cutting edge technologies and this segment will experience and shape G3,  MMS and XDAs. This Mobile Generation is used to MMORPGS moving to enveloping gaming or games that play you. Mobile Generation differs from the Net Generation in the sense that the Net Generation sees Web as a virtual, whereas the Mobile Generation sees the Web as portable. Mobile Generation is at the threshold of witnessing the convergence of Web and mobile. The dissimilarity between the virtual, real and the third space  will disappear.



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