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Innovate or Die is a new series that focuses on generating ideas to create new markets, products or services that will drive new waves of growth.

Late last year, John Chen, CEO of BlackBerry Ltd., came out and openly questioned the value of ‘leap’ innovations – the kind that set them apart from the competition.

In an open letter, Mr. Chen wrote: “innovation is a word that gets used too often and carelessly. Innovation is not about blowing up what works to make something new – it’s about taking what works and making it better.”

Mr. Chen then went on to promote BlackBerry Classic, citing that by rolling back to what made them great, in addition to new innovations such as BlackBerry Blend and Hub, they would become a stronger player in the market.

When examining BlackBerry from the perspective of a small business, there are a lot of takeaways as it relates to the lifecycle of products and services, keeping up with the marketplace, and what to do and what not to do when the competitive pressure builds up. I would encourage all small businesses to look at their company in relation to Blackberry and consider how innovation could benefit them.

BlackBerry Chief Executive John Chen holds up the unreleased Blackberry Passport and Blackberry Classic (R) devices during the company's annual general meeting for shareholders in Waterloo June 19, 2014. (Mark Blinch / Reuters)

So is Mr. Chen’s position on innovation right or wrong?

Looking at BlackBerry on the business lifecycle, I would put them deep in the cost-cutting stage as they made their last round of layoffs less than a year ago, sold off real-estate holding in Waterloo, dumped other non-core assets and partnered with a new handset supplier in Foxconn to reduce manufacturing costs.

BlackBerry is at a tenuous spot because the next set of strategic decisions they make will either continue their slide down into decline or if they are able to develop a leap innovation, then they will restart the momentum of their business curve and ultimately drive a new wave of growth for the company.

It seems like BlackBerry is going back to its core of serving large corporations and governments and while at the same time featuring BlackBerry Classic. Is this focus and return to their original blueprints enough to restart the curve and drive a new level of growth? I don’t think so.

These moves will likely stop BlackBerry’s short-term bleeding , but unless they make the decision to invest in a leap innovation, I don’t see them returning to the thriving company they once were many years ago.

What they do next will mean the difference between thriving, surviving or dying. Some will be quick to point out that BlackBerry is in fact innovating with BlackBerry Hub, Blend, and the BlackBerry 10 operating system, and the’d be correct. Those innovations are what we call ‘core’ innovations, otherwise known as the smaller innovations made to existing products that make them better. These are important to the continual development of a product, service or system. They are critical.

BlackBerry is treading water in a pool full of sharks. It needs a leap innovation to get them to a level their competitors have yet to reach.
Innovation starts with executives defining what they need and why they need it. From there, the innovation team – those closest to the work – figure out how to solve that problem.

A great way to get the team primed for creativity is to use stimulus through data mining. There are serveral types of mining, but for this example we will examine market trends – this is called market mining. For example, one market trend that demands attention is phablet technology – phablets being a combination of a tablet and a phone. Those who remember the Playbook would be quick to shoot down anything to do with tablets, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t explore the space again.

BlackBerry Ltd. Passport smartphones are displayed during a product announcement in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014. (Hannah Yoon / Bloomberg)

If a team were to dig deeper into the phablet market they would find a wealth of information that would tell them this is a trend that is only becoming more prevalent and warrants exploration. Such data comes from overall sales, adoption rates, trends in different markets, and more.


Using market mining as a source of stimulus to generate new ideas, a team would be empowered to generate innovative ideas that sets them apart from all the other players in the game.

Perhaps that new innovation is the BlackBerry Prospecting Efficiency Device (PED) that focuses solely on increasing the productivity and effectiveness of sales professionals by enabling them with all the major tools needed to performance optimally in the field.

Sales teams are forced to use a number of tools to help them do their job and this creates inconsistent results and poor performance. With the BlackBerry PED, sales teams will be able to perform all of their sales tasks from one device without having to hop from one platform or one device to another.

RIM's Jon Evans, right, explains the benefits of the Playbook to NEI Investment's Jennifer Coulson, left, before the start of the Blackberry maker's AGM in Waterloo, July 12, 2011. (J.P. Moczulski / The Globe and Mail)

The BlackBerry PED leverages the phablet design for easy reading as well as transportation. The PED, which is built solely for sales, incorporates all of the major functions a professional needs to be successful in the field such as a full customer relationship management (CRM), the ability to track and send e-mails, send and sign documents, data mining tools for prospecting, report generation, web conferencing functionality, sales education and more all from the palm of their hand.

I’m not privy to BlackBerry’s strategic plan – and this is only one idea from an outsider who comes to the table with a particular worldview.

Butone idea is all it takes. As long as that idea is meaningfully unique, it can be communicated and be commercialized in an efficient manner – without taking on a great deal of risk – then it has a great chance of restarting BlackBerry’s business growth curve.

BlackBerry can continue to ride it out selling products that brought them to the dance initially, or they can take control of their company’s future and generate innovations for their corporate clients that they cannot live without.

Attendees wait in line ahead of a product announcement in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014 (Hannah Yoon / Bloomberg)

But ultimately the company has two choices: innovate or die. I’m optimistic that they’ll choose the former.

Ryan Caligiuri is an associate and innovation engineering practitioner with inVision Edge. Caligiuri is also the founder of The Growth Network, a program that provides professional service firms with a system to grow their organizations through sales, partnership, marketing, and account management strategies.

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