29 June 2008

The enhancement of the dream

Filed under: collaboration, Psion, Symbian Story — David Wood @ 12:49 pm

Did this week’s announcements about the Symbian Foundation herald “The end of the dream“, as Michael Mace suggests?

No matter how it works out in the long run, the purchase of Symbian by Nokia marks the end of a dream — the creation of a new independent OS company to be the mobile equivalent of Microsoft. Put a few beers into former Symbian employees and they’ll get a little wistful about it, but the company they talk about most often is Psion, the PDA company that spawned Symbian. …

What makes the Psion story different is that many of the Psion veterans had to leave the UK, or join non-UK companies, in order to become successful. Some are in other parts of Europe, some are in the US, and some are in London but working for foreign companies. This is a source of intense frustration to the Psion folks I’ve talked with. They feel like not only their company failed, but their country failed to take advantage of the expertise they had built.

I understand the thrust of this argument, but I take a different point of view. Rather than seeing this week’s announcement as “the end of the dream”, I see it as enabling “the enhancement of the dream”.

During the second half of 2007, Symbian’s executive team led a company-wide exercise to find a set of evocative, compelling words that captured what we called “The Symbian Story”. Some of the words we came up with were new, but the sentiment they conveyed was widely recognised as deriving from the deep historic roots of the company. Here are some extracts:

  • The world is seeing a revolution in smarter mobile devices
  • Convergence is real, happening now and coming to everyone, everywhere
  • Our mission is to be the OS chosen for the converged mobile world
  • No one else can seize it like we can
  • Our talented people, building highly complex software, have established a smartphone OS that leads the industry
  • We welcome rapid change as the way to stay ahead
  • We’ll work together to fulfill our potential to be the most widely used software on the planet, at the heart of an inspiring, exciting and rewarding success story.

This story – which we might also call a dream, or a vision – has by no means ended with this week’s announcements. On the contrary, these steps should accelerate the outcome that’s been in our minds for so long. There will be deeper collaboration and swifter innovation – making it even more likely that the Symbian platform will become in due course the most widely used on the planet.

But what about the dream that Symbian (or before it, Psion) could be “the next Microsoft”?

In terms of software influence, and setting de facto standards, this dream still holds. In terms of boosting the productivity and enjoyment of countless people around the world, through the careful deployment of smart software which we write, the dream (again) still holds. In terms of the founders of the company joining the ranks of the very richest people in the world, well, that’s a different story, but that fantasy was never anything like so high in our motivational hierarchy.

What about the demise of “British control” over the software? Does the acquisition of UK-based Symbian by Finland-based Nokia indicate yet another “oh what might have been” for the United Kingdom plc?

Once again, I prefer to take a different viewpoint. In truth, the software team has long ago ceased to be dominated by home-bred British talent. The present Symbian Leadership Team has one person from Holland and one from Norway. 50% of the Research department that I myself head were born overseas (in Russia, Greece, and Canada). And during the Q&A with Symbian’s Nigel Clifford and Nokia’s Kai Oistamo that took place in London at all-hands meetings of Symbian employees on the 24th of June, questions were raised using almost every accent under the sun. So rather than Symbian being a British-run company, it’s better to see us as a global company that happens to be headquartered in London, and which benefits mightily from talent born all over the world.

Not only do we benefit from employees born worldwide, we also benefit (arguably even more highly) from our interactions with customers and partners the world over. As Symbian morphs over the next 6-9 months into a new constellation of organisations (including part that works inside Nokia, and part that has an independent existence as the Symbian Foundation), these collaborative trends should intensify. That’s surely a matter for celebration, not for remorse.

1 Comment »

  1. Nice rebuttal, but I do have to ask, when are you going to link this blog and John Forsyth’s on Symbian.com?

    The thoughts and insights make for a delightful read and surely they are worthy of attracting extra attention.

    Comment by Stefan — 29 June 2008 @ 8:19 pm

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