12 August 2008

Audacious goals

Filed under: BHAG, Psion, Symbian Foundation, vision — David Wood @ 8:02 pm

Martin Sauter asks: Which BHAGs are held by companies in the wireless space?

BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) is a memorable term introduced by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras in their watershed book, “Built to last: successful habits of visionary companies”. This book was widely read (and debated) within Psion in the mid 1990s. I vividly remember Psion Chairman and CEO David Potter giving an internal talk on themes from that book relevant to Psion. That talk had a lasting effect.

As Martin mentions, Symbian has been driven for many years by the audacious idea that, one day, Symbian OS will be the most widely used software platform on the planet. But that’s only one of several BHAGs in my mind.

Personally I prefer to say that Symbian’s goal is to be the most widely used and most widely liked software platform on the planet. That’s because I see the latter element as being a key contributor towards the former element. My vision is that people of all dispositions and from all social groups the world over will have good reason to want to use devices running this software – and will be able to afford them.

Here’s another BHAG. Looking towards the activities of the Symbian Foundation (assuming that the regulatory authorities approve the deal that creates this foundation), I envision a time when the ten or so principal package owners for the Symbian Platform will be among the most widely admired and respected software engineers on the planet. Books and articles will frequently write about each of these principal package owners and their finely honed skills in software architecture, software quality, software usability, and large-scale software integration. These articles will celebrate the different backgrounds and different sponsor-companies of these principal package owners (and will no doubt also delve into the multi-faceted inter-personal relationships among this group of world-striding individuals). These individuals will be the pin-up superstars who inspire new generations of emerging world-class software engineers.

I have other large-scale aspirations concerning the future of the Symbian Foundation, but it’s not appropriate to talk about these for the moment. However, what I am happy to share is some audacious ideas for the evolution of the products that I expect to be created, based on Symbian OS, in the 15-25 years ahead:

  • The human-computer interaction will sooner or later evolve to become a far more efficient brain-computer interaction. Instead of device owners needing to type in requests and then view the results on a physical screen, it will be possible for them to think requests and then (in effect) intuit the results via inner mental vision. (Just as we all had to learn to type, we’ll have to learn to think anew, to use these improved interfaces, if you see what I mean.) So the rich information world of the internet and beyond will become available for direct mental introspection;
  • The smartphone devices of the future will be more than information stores and communications pathways; they will have powerful intelligence of their own. Take the ideas of a spell-checker and grammar-checker and magnify them to consider an idea-checker and an internal coach. So the smartphone will become, for those who wish it, like a trusted best friend;
  • Adding these two ideas together, I foresee a time when human IQ and EQ are both radically boosted by the support of powerful mobile always-connected electronic brains and their nano-connections into our biological brains. To be clear, such devices ought to make us wiser as well as smarter, and kinder as well as stronger. For a glimpse of what this might mean, I suggest you take the time to find out what happens to one of the key characters in Kevin Bohacz’s awkwardly titled but engrossing and audacious (I think that’s the right word in this context) novel “Immortality”.

There’s more. In addition to far-reaching ideas about the products that the operation of the Symbian Foundation will eventually enable, it’s also worth considering some far-reaching ideas about the problem-solving capabilities of the robust yet transparent open collaborative methods expected to be deployed by the Symbian Foundation (methods that build on best practice established in the first ten years of Symbian’s history). In other words, the potential benefits of richly skilled open collaboration go far beyond the question of how to create world-beating smartphones. As highlighted in the tour-de-force “The upside of down” by the deeply thoughtful Canadian researcher Thomas Homer Dixon, the profound structural issues facing the future of our society (including climate change, energy shortage, weapons proliferation, market instability, fundamentalist abdication of rationality, and changing population demographics) are so inter-twined and so pervasive that they will require a new level of worldwide collaboration to solve them. Towards the end of his book, Homer-Dixon points to the transformative potential of open-source software mechanisms for inspiration for how this new level of collaboration can be achieved. It’s an intriguing analysis. Can open source save the world? Watch this space.

Footnote: Having the right BHAG is an important first step towards a company making a dent in the universe. But it’s only one of many steps. Although “Built to last” is a fine book, I actually prefer Jim Collin’s later work, “From good to great: why some companies make the leap … and others don’t”. In effect, “From good to great” is full of acutely insightful ideas on how companies can make progress towards their BHAGs.


  1. I completely agree that being the most liked platform on the planet is extremely important if you aim to be the most widely used platform on the planet – and it is such a shame that S60 has so badly squandered the great start the Psion platform gave Symbian. Hopefully with all of the restructuring Symbian will soon once again have a usable and friendly UI layer. Good luck!

    Comment by raddedas — 13 August 2008 @ 10:54 am

  2. >it is such a shame that S60 has so badly squandered the great start the Psion platform gave Symbian. Hopefully with all of the restructuring Symbian will soon once again have a usable and friendly UI layer

    That’s not exactly how I see things. Psion’s Eikon UI was well suited to keyboarded landscape-screen PDAs. It wasn’t suitable for one-hand operated smartphones. Nokia’s S60 was designed precisely for that category of devices, and has been widely liked.

    Of course, as time has progressed, S60 devices have become more fully featured, and also more variable. The S60 UI is evolving in response. Each new S60 release provides greater options for flexibility and customisation. This is a never-ending process!

    // dw2-0

    Comment by David Wood — 14 August 2008 @ 4:47 am

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