Glorious Failure

You may think this post is about the fact that I’ve been ignoring this blog lately. If it were, it wouldn’t be a bad title. I’ve been too busy to blog and Sprint has been busy launching major announcements that are the culmination of lots of good smart work by lots of folks across the company, all of which I can track back to initial analysis done by my strategy team months or years ago. That includes Network Vision, the M2M Collaboration Center, and Sprint ID. Glorious stuff. But the problem is its months or years between the busy-ness that makes me a blogging failure and the glorious stuff that makes Sprint a hero to many. Ah, the challenges of living in the strategy world…

But no, this post is actually about the panel I participated in on Thursday in Seattle. Chetan Sharma invited me to join a handful of other smart folks from across the mobile ecosystem for a discussion about the future at one of his quarterly Mobile Breakfast Series sessions.

The title of this post is a quote by co-panelist Jim Ryan of Motricity, who the other panelists dubbed “the soundbite king.” Jim was adding his comments to a discussion that flowed from my normal “Big Bell Dogma” ramblings. As usual, I had banged the drum about how the typical telco approach tries to control all aspects of the ecosystem, causing innovation to crawl along at “carrier speed”, while Sprint’s approach is “open enablement” which encourages innovation at “silicon valley speed.”

Frank Barbieri challenged my claim by pointing to Isis, the joint venture formed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile to create a mobile payments network. Frank said that Sprint not participating in Isis was an example of how we weren’t enabling innovation.

I responded by explaining that Isis is a perfect example of Big Bell Dogma. Carriers think they can do a better job than Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and others in the payments ecosystem, so they invest billions to try to replicate capabilities and compete with existing players rather than focusing on what carriers actually do well and enabling the existing players and nimble startups to leverage the carrier’s infrastructure to bring real value to consumers. Carriers have been trying to do that for over a hundred years in different industries. Sometimes they get lucky and succeed, but most of the time it’s a miserable failure.

That’s when Jim corrected me and said “it’s not a miserable failure, it’s a glorious failure.” The billions they invest may not actually generate financial returns for the participating carriers, but it will help put in place (either directly or by spurring competition) infrastructure (e.g. near field communications point of sale terminals) and standards (cross-carrier NFC standards) that Sprint and the payments ecosystem will benefit from.

I’ve got to admit – he’s got a point there.

Maybe I shouldn’t be trying so hard to put an end to Big Bell Dogma. Instead, in the short term, Sprint can enjoy the benefits of being the best partner for everyone else in the ecosystem, and in the long term, we all can enjoy the fruits of Big Bell Dogma’s glorious failures.

3 Responses to “Glorious Failure”

  1. David Cordeiro says:

    Barabasi’s latest book may make you feel better about the “burstiness” of your posting http://www.barabasi.com 😉

    With regards to glorious failures, I agree that a malinvestment can eventual be made to benefit the market but it rarely benefits the shareholders who are paid for their largesse with a negative ROI.

    The fiber overbuilds of the 1990s come to mind.

  2. […] This post was Twitted by chetansharma […]

  3. […] payment joint venture (then called Isis), I participated in a panel discussion which then led to a post on this blog that I titled “Glorious […]

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