Takeaway: At some stage, most great ideas are no longer great. John M McKee makes the case that the same thing holds true for organizations and he uses Sony to make the case.
Are you old enough to remember Japan’s Sony Corporation?
You may be too young to know, but once upon a time it was great! They made wonderful products, they invented the future creating things we didn’t even know we wanted. Their products came with bragging rights, as in: “Well, I’m the kind of individual who only buys the best - so I got a Sony...”
It was kind of the opposite of what it is now. Back then:
- The company’s leadership was clear-headed and directional. Using a company “Founding Prospectus” they were focused on creating a company where, “engineers (and others) could work to their hearts’ content in full consciousness of their joy in technology and their social obligation…”
- The value proposition was apparent and strong: Regardless of what product you purchased, you knew you were getting the best, even though it cost more than the other brands.
- Societal awareness was considered a valuable asset. The founder saw trends long before the rest of the world did and he helped his teams to become aware so they could lead (not follow) others with whom they competed.
- They created beautiful products. Although they cost more than products that did similar functions, those who could afford a Sony product didn’t mind because it was so attractive it was worth the extra money.
As a result, they made tons of money. They were respected in the various sectors in which they traded globally. And they were considered to be a great place to work. They were, to a large extent, the “Apple” of an earlier time. But then they lost their way. And it was the real Apple who took control of the marketplace and styles of the next generation way back in 2001 when it introduced the iPod. Sony had been working on a personal device that would serve the same function but internal competition and external marketplace issues held them back.
That was the beginning of the end. Although still massive and with revenues of $25B in recent years, it’s really been on a downward spiral for a long time. It’s kind of like a zombie that doesn’t realize it’s time now to lie down.
They are in so many businesses that it’s hard to keep track: movies (Sony and Universal), games (Playstation etc.), electronics (TVs, stereos, phones, tablets, blah blah blah), music, and other stuff that is part of the digital world like binoculars, headphones, and personal viewers.
This is a clear case of an organization that needs to be killed.
After that, someone smart needs to come in and rebuild it from the ground up. Otherwise, it will continue to dither, resulting in lost shareholder value, further erosion of a once-fabulous brand, and it will become simply a caricature of its former self.
Sony deserves better. Here’s to the future.
Is Sony just a dead man walking?