He called it “The things we think and do not say (the future of our business)” and he outlined a path for living and doing business that went against the grain of how sports agents typically behave, that espouses a kinder, gentler way of doing business, that puts the value of relationships over that of profit.
After a marathon late-night photocopying session (“I printed it up in the middle of the night, before I could rethink it”), Jerry sends out a copy of the memo to everyone in his company. It gets him fired.
Two weeks ago, Stephen Elop, Nokia’s new chief executive officer, had his very own “Jerry Maguire moment”. He woke up one Saturday and wrote a 1,200-word memo to his employees. He began casually. “Hello there.” But there was nothing casual about what he had to say.
He began with a metaphor. He likened Nokia to a man caught between a burning oil rig and the deadly leap into ice cold waters, caught between the certainty of death and the possibility of survival.
“I have learned that we are standing on a burning platform. And, we have more than one explosion — we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us.”
Nokia used to be to mobile phones what Xerox used to be to photocopiers. They had become synonymous with the device. Market leaders, conquerors, they had beat back Motorola and Ericsson with a very big stick. With superior hardware. With glitzier phones. But they became complacent. Because it wasn’t about hardware any longer. It was about software, it was about apps. The world had moved on. They hadn’t.
Nokia weren’t just being challenged by the upstarts what were Google and Apple and Samsung and HTC, they were being defeated. They were quickly going the way IBM did in the age of Microsoft. The way Apple did those years in the wilderness.
And Elop’s moment of frankness, of reflection, may be just what the company needs.
He acknowledged the company’s failures. He pointed out the real threats posed by Apple and by Google. He put forward some hard truths and he did so bravely. “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.”
We now know that the memo was merely a prelude, it was laying ground before Elop announced his radical decision to ally Nokia with Microsoft in the smartphone wars. It was a bold strategy. It was about accepting change without conceding defeat. Because a partnership between two underdogs is to show fighting spirit.
And there are lessons to be learned from Elop’s valiant, even daredevil, manoeuvre. That brutal honesty is essential. That self-reflection is crucial. That complacency and arrogance in the face of success leads to stagnation; that it eventually leads to decline. That we cannot, that we must not, allow our futures to be defined for us. That we must take control of our own destinies.
But most of all, it is a lesson in survival. Because to survive, you must first acknowledge where you’ve gone wrong. Because to succeed, you must then do something about it. A leap of faith. But one that is measured. “The burning platform, upon which the man found himself, caused the man to shift his behaviour, and take a bold and brave step into an uncertain future. He was able to tell his story. Now, we have a great opportunity to do the same.”
It is easy to mistake the “Jerry Maguire revelation” as nothing more than a moment of conscience. A sudden flash of compunction, of heart, when forced to face your own shortcomings. That it stems from guilt. From regret. But, the fact is, it isn’t anything quite as touchy-feely.
For it is rooted in something a lot more practical. It is about returning to the fundamentals. It is about taking constructive action after coming to the realisation that your current actions fail to match up with your value systems.