The (not-so-sad) death knell for RIM
It’s about time we accept that companies live harder and die younger than they used to.
Given how fast and constant it is, it's remarkable how tough it still is for most of us to accept and respond to change.
Ultimately, even though we grudgingly accept and adapt to change, the adjustment in our thinking - and our expectations — tends to be a very uneven process. And it takes a while for the bigger picture to filter through to our actions and understanding.
Take, for example, our collective relationship with publicly owned corporations and their increasingly short life cycles. For the most part, we persist in assuming that once they exist, they'll continue to do so indefinitely. They may shrink or expand, but once they are part of our mental landscape we don't readily accept changes to their structure , leadership or ownership.
Given how temporary and disposable so many other things have become, why do we react as though companies are different?
Especially in the technology space where change is a core part of the business, isn't it more realistic to accept that in many cases, companies will fulfill a clear purpose and then fade away. Given that innovation and creative spark are probably the most difficult things to sustain over a long period of time, it makes sense that as momentum starts to fade, patents and intellectual property are passed into new hands. For a pretty price, of course.
It's not unlike the pop music business, where the riffs and chords of past pieces are mashed up or sampled in a new one.
It's also important to take into account that the skill set required to get any company to a certain stage begins to change radically after it hits a certain size. And there's no guarantee that the original team can adapt as seamlessly and swiftly as they need to.
This is, of course, what's happened time and time again: corporations outlive their original purpose and don't re-invent themselves adequately or quickly enough to survive as they once were.
Of course there are always exceptions — Apple famously resurrected itself after a near-death experience. As did IBM. But there's really no reason why obsolescence shouldn't be factored — and priced — into the equation.
We are, by the way, talking about Research in Motion here.
For some time now, it's been crystal clear that the tech company and its principal product, the BlackBerry, are in a pickle. It started out with some disruptive glitches to service and quickly escalated into a painful public struggle for survival in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive market.
In Canada, this reality has been particularly difficult to accept. After all, it was RIM that restored much of the country's tech sector swagger after the pathetic demise of the once-mighty Nortel Networks. The fact that it was a global, made-in-Canada success led by two Canadian entrepreneurs, only made it all the more precious against a backdrop of foreign takeovers in every other sector of the domestic economy.
More recently, however, it's become evident the company has gone into a serious skid. It's reached the point where the chatter about its failure to keep pace with a changing market, sustain innovation and launch new products, has led to speculation about takeovers, asset breakups and patent auctions. The founding CEOs have been replaced at the helm of RIM.
Well, why not? Why is this considered such a terrible outcome?
RIM has done us all proud. It has generated jobs and knowledge and wealth where none existed. It has had a profound impact on the way we communicate and significantly advanced the science around that. The philanthropy of the founders has also enriched the community at large. And that's a pretty good run by any measure.
We've very gradually absorbed the reality that companies grow, shrink, acquire, divest and move — just like we do in our own lives. And just like us, they also have a natural life cycle. And death is an inevitable part of it.
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