Assumptions are filters through which we see the world. With too much information flowing past us and too many decisions to make on most days, we do a very human thing which is to assume.
As assumption is like a mental shortcut. It allows us to move forward without doing all the detailed work. This makes a lot of sense most of the time.
Sometime however assumptions can cause real problems. Like in an environment where misunderstanding can have high costs. I remember my flying instructor explaining how we do radio calls to the control tower at Cape Town International airport.
A quick piece of context here is that we were flying in a two seater Cessna and were using the same runway as the local and international Boeing’s and Airbuses. His line which has always stuck with me is that if we assume something in this situation we are at risk or making an-ass-of-u-and-me.
In business making assumptions is a key part of being entrepreneurial and growing a business. If we spend too much time analysing, we don’t ever get out the door. To get out the door we need to make some assumptions.
The deceptive thing about assumptions is that if we have made them once and they worked out, then we are likely to feel more confident the next time when making a similar assumption. This has been the downfall of many a business person who has been very successful in one area and tried to do exactly the same in another without checking their assumptions. Michael Jordan attempting to play baseball for the Chicago White Sox is also an example of this.
Blackberry’s challenges over the past years is a modern day example of assumptions gone wrong. Coming from the success that RIM and now Blackberry had, dominating the business smartphone market for all those years, it must have been hard for them not to assume that they would continue to dominate.
Their assumption was that an iPhone was impossible back in 2007 when it was announced. A former employee of Blackberry revealed that the assumption internally was that what Apple were promising in the iPhone could not work. Imagine the panic when they realised that they were wrong. They have been playing catch up ever since.
It is hard to be at the top of your game and then have someone join in who changes the rules to your disadvantage. Assuming it will never happen in a world where technology changes as fast as it does is perhaps a little naive. Andy Grove of Intel took his distrust of assumptions to an extreme level by calling his autobiography, ‘Only the paranoid survive’.
Blackberry’s current roll out of Blackberry Messenger (BBM) to iPhone and Android is looking like further poor assumptions. From the outside we can only guess at the impact giving BBM away free to their competitors will do for their floundering business.
Internally Blackberry must have made a couple of assumptions that look something like this:
- Keeping BBM proprietary to Blackberry will sentence it to obsolescence on a shrinking client base,
- Bearing (1) in mind, people other than the dwindling Blackberry population, will use BBM if it is available for free; and
- BBM available free on the competitor iPhone and Android platforms will be good for the Blackberry business.
Supposing I am correct about the assumptions above, then it is clear that this is a delicate situation for Blackberry. Perception has changed about Blackberry’s ability to deliver a popular smartphone. This is reflected in its market share of 4% at the end of August (against iPhone’s 40.7% and Android’s 51.6%), a fraction of the 20% they held in 2009 (source Gartner).
This makes the manner in which they have rolled out BBM disappointing. This included delivery in late October despite aiming for early September, mixed messages from their partner Samsung, no communication to people who have indicated interest and when it did arrive on my iPhone the only thing the app does is to say that I am in a queue to get it later. Really?
Perhaps there is an assumption that the whole world is anxiously awaiting BBM. This may be the case or it may be that many people like me are wanting it to stay in contact with the handful of people close to them who still insist on staying with Blackberry. I hope for Blackberry’s sake that when it does actually arrive it is a strong contender for WhatsApp and paid for text messages.