Why is it that great products that hold commanding market share can't hold onto that advantage over time? We've seen it time and time again. Take RIM and their Blackberry. It was revolutionary. It was a fantastic device that I carried for years and years. It owned the market, but now has been under seige from the likes of Apple and Google. With such a strong foundation, why is that RIM couldn't leapfrog Apple?
The issue is being too wedded to the foundation you've created.
There have been other cases of this as well. Take Microsoft. Windows dominated for years. So what happened? They tried too hard to continue re-using the same foundation in future versions and in other products. They are still doing that as well! Look at the response to the iPad.....its a tablet running Windows 7. I know that letting go of something you've built can be hard, but the risk of not exploring that option is huge. I've spoke about this before when Microsoft was struggling to evolve Windows. It's not new.
We can see examples of where starting with something entirely new can yield breakthrough products. Take again Microsoft, this time with their xBox platform. Sony was commanding the market with the PS2 at the time. Microsoft could have built a platform based on Windows, but they didn't. It took courage to pull together a team that could start from scratch. What did it yield? The xBox user interface was (and is) fantastic - it was different, it was effective, it was user centric. It more than challenged Sony...it displaced them.
I believe that Microsoft is doing this again with their soon to be release smartphone. They could have evolved Windows Mobile...which has steadily been declining into irrelevance. They opted not to do that. They could have played the copycat game like Google and RIM and tried to create an iPhone-like interface. Again, they opted not to do that. Instead they've created an OS that is user/social/info-centric. It is fresh and in my opinion it is a step in the right direction as smartphone users become more sophisticated and comfortable with the mobilization of their world.
By ignoring the legacy foundations that an organization has, they can indeed create innovative breakthrough products and services. Apple does this exceedingly well. It's no secret that I am a big proponent of what Apple has built. I do, however, offer a cautionary opinion along the thread of this post: don't become obsessed with the foundation! The iPhone was revolutionary. It has reshaped an entire industry and introduced a whole new way of leveraging our phones. The iPad has furthered that, virtually jump-starting the tablet market after years of that technology never really grabbing hold of the public mindshare. The risk to Apple is that they too could fall into this trap where everything evolves the iOS foundation. If they do this, they too will be leapfrogged. It is inevitable.
Blackberry, finding itself now behind with regard to the innovations of Apple, has taken a bold step with the Playbook. This device is a gamble because it will leverage a whole new operating system. RIM is starting from scratch with this device and in my opinion that is a good thing. They won't be hindered by old paradigms and sacred cows - instead they can create a product that fits with the evolving users that they are targeting. It will be interesting to see how the final product is. Regardless of it's success or failure, however, it will be a success from the perspective that it is a departure from the legacy foundation.
It's hard to move toward the future, if your organization is always holding onto what it created in the past. Take a risk, and start something from scratch. I'm sure that you'll be surprised with where that approach can take you.