James Bond schools technology sector in Skyfall

Let me first say that Skyfall is a great film. It restores the Bond legacy after the disappointing Quantum of Solace and finally establishes Daniel Craig as unquestionably worthy of the James Bond role. For the first time, I wasn’t picturing how Roger Moore or Sean Connery would have done it better.

Without creating spoilers for those who haven’t seen the film (I’ll be careful), I couldn’t help but see parallels to the challenges facing the software industry, even as the VC and public investment grows and technology moves in remarkable new directions like mobile, cloud, social and big data.

While it wasn’t apparent immediately, this 007 movie was making an indelible statement:

1. Simplicity sells

There was a return to basics about Skyfall that was refreshing. We saw it in the simple gadgets provided by Q (and done in a very, very non-Bond, classical setting…”It’s a radio”) and the mocking reference to an exploding pen. There’s more I could say about simplicity with light bulbs, gunpowder and nails, but it would simply be too much of a spoiler…but it was awesome to see M’s hidden talents.

Many established technology vendors could use a serious simplification. Talking with customers and industry analysts, the biggest complaint about the large, established vendors is the sheer complexity of products and services. There are far fewer uses cases for technology than combinations someone will happily sell you. Many big software houses offer so many overlapping products that no one account team (or customer) can understand. The outcome of a sale depends more on who you get than what you need.

2. “It’s a young man’s game”

This Bond could hardly have been more about generations. There’s a reason older viewers have been outnumbering the under 25 crowd three to one. We saw it when the tarp came off the Aston Martin, delighting the older Bond fans who were around to see Goldfinger in a theater. It was a pointed reference to the days where the stick shift ‘eject’ button was modern tech. We even saw the first James Bond non-distilled spirit beverage (that’s all I’ll say) that could only be a tip of a hat to the younger set.

But there is a generational dark side in Skyfall and we saw several ways poor James struggled in a large, bureaucratic organization, itself under political fire for being out of date. This wasn’t your father’s MI-6.

Established technology companies share that pain and bear the combined weight of a larger, more bureaucratic staff, customers who are still demanding support on old versions of the product, and legacy internal systems. These challenges suck the life out of improvement and innovation. Startups, on the other hand, have little overhead, are expected to grow while losing money, and can pivot on new ideas very quickly. They play a young man’s game.

The only way around the young man’s game for the non-startup is to change that storyline. As painful as it may be, a visionary technology company reinvents even at the risk of cannibalizing their current business. Few ‘winning’ companies can do this as success is the greatest inhibitor of change. Very few companies can sell products that argue against the status quo…a status quo that is keeping the lights on.

The truly innovative behave like a startup…and not just in the trite way every company likes to describe themselves. Behaving like a startup isn’t an idea but instead is specific and cultural. Allowing failure plays a central role and most established businesses are risk averse and failure intolerant.

3. You can’t win playing by someone else’s rules

Again without spoiling, I’ll divulge that there was a moment where James realizes that he’s a victim of someone else’s plan. He knows he needs to break free if he has any chance of coming out on top. The difference between 007 and most companies is what he did next.

Most software companies chase the competition in a marketplace created by someone else. And it isn’t always a lack of creativity or desire. There are two powerful reasons companies don’t get to pick the rules and are held back from being disruptive:

  • Venture capital rules – While venture capital creates opportunities for ideas to come to market, VC’s also expect a familiar pattern before and after making an investment.
  • Shareholder rules – Much the same as the VC challenge, shareholders and a Boards of Directors have revenue, cost and margin expectations that can make quarter and year-end close the real goal and not long-term strategy.

There’s only one way to successfully break free of the challenge of someone else’s game: Vision.

A strong company vision is what allows executives to make decisions and employees to consistently do the right things that set a company apart. I’m fortunate to work for a company that has a very strong central message  that is backed up by specific, core themes that explain every new acquisition and every product development effort. We believe the revenue will come from the vision and not from a focus on individual products. With that said, we all sell products that support funded projects as that’s how the marketplace spends in 2012. SaaS, PaaS and other trends will disrupt the current ways of selling but our vision will sustain us through the changes.

I didn’t go to the new James Bond film thinking I’d end up writing about it, but before the credits rolled, it was clear that this is a message-packed film that has a much broader application in the real world. That’s why it has been so successful in just one week and I predict will be considered one of the best Bonds of all time.

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Categories: Disruption

Author:Chris Taylor

Reimagining the way work is done through big data, analytics, and event processing. There's no end to what we can change and improve. I wear myself out...

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9 Comments on “James Bond schools technology sector in Skyfall”

  1. November 18, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    2 software companies come to mind after reading this post. Dropbox and Asana. Both keep their products extremely simple, especially in the beginning. Dropbox – share any file from anywhere. Asana – task lists. Neither of them necessarily went out and shouted that they were focused on enterprise. They just let the product out and let it be simple enough that it started bleeding into the workplace. Both run by founders that are young, design focused, consumer oriented, and have enough clout/experience to keep their vision intact without much outside interference/distraction. Now I gotta see this movie…

    • November 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm #

      Great comment, Greg. Thanks. This is a great Bond film.

  2. November 18, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Understanding and staying close to their core values allow brands and companies to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. Sometimes getting back to these values is the leap of faith. I think it what the people that manage the James Bond brand have succeeded. Their James Bond is a darker character very close to Ian Fleming’s original blueprint. They kept only a few attributes such as the loyalty to the kingdom, the license to kill, the gun, the drink and the car (I love the DB5 though he originally drove Bentley’s). These allowed James Bond to survive its many incarnations and current return to form. Using their core values as foundations, companies can take bets to explore new business ideas. It is their licence to innovate.

  3. November 19, 2012 at 8:10 am #

    I couldn’t agree more – A strong company vision is what allows executives to make decisions and employees to consistently do the right things that set a company apart.

    I worked for a company that has gone out of business because they didn’t have a strong vision. I even sent the President an Email before his meeting with analysts telling him that he needed to express a strong company vision. He didn’t and the stock dropped 25%.

    Companies should look at their vision statements every year to make sure it states clearly where the company wants to go and how they will go about getting there. As you say, it makes it easy for executives and employees to do the right things.

    • November 19, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Scott, do you see the vision as a vision statement or something else?

  4. November 19, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I can’t resist to use this one as an example of a company that has based its incredible growth and venture into unexpected territories: Amazon. I was reminded this as Jeff BEzos has been elected business person of the year. http://money.cnn.com/gallery/news/companies/2012/11/16/business-person-of-the-year.fortune/2.html

  5. November 23, 2012 at 8:41 am #

    A lot of big startup which have grown to become big companies are now looking to go back to their startup roots. We can definitely see a trend among these firms where we see more flexibility and reactivity than ever (bearing in mind their size – you don’t run a 20000+ people company the same way your run a 200 people company).

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