When asked the secret of Intel’s rise to prominence during the late 80s, its then CEO Andy Grove replied: ‘Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.’
Those prophetic words, extolling the virtues of a healthy dose of paranoia, were spoken over thirty years ago. But for companies like Samsung those same words strike a particularly responsive chord today.
Following the ground-breaking launch of Samsung’s near-legendary Galaxy S series, the widely accepted conventions governing the aesthetics and perceptions of a smartphone were swept aside in one fell swoop.
Just as Apple’s iconoclastic Steve Jobs re-wrote the rule book with the iPhone, it seemed, other smartphone manufacturers were resigned to walking in the garden of Samsung’s turbulence.
Indeed in the corridors of power at Apple’s Cupertino headquarters executives were talking in hushed and guarded tones about the seemingly unstoppable rise and rise of the Samsung Galaxy series.
As the public adulation for Samsung began fading to a barely audible murmur, expectation for the new S5 was riding high. Would the Korean manufacturer be able to replicate the halcyon days of the Galaxy S3 by unveiling yet another trend-setting handheld?
Would they innovate in a direction that would rekindle what was fast becoming an oversaturated and predictable industry?
The answer, it would appear, was a resounding no. Rather than revolution, Samsung had opted for the safer path of caution and chosen instead to go back to basics with its new Galaxy S device.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress, Samsung president, CEO and head of IT and mobile communications division, JK Shin told an underwhelmed audience: ‘Samsung has learned that consumers do not want eye-popping technology or the most complex technology. Customers want durable design and performance. Samsung consumers want a simple, yet powerful camera and faster and seamless connectivity. And Samsung consumers want a phone that can help them stay fit.'
The verdict from industry watchers has been lukewarm to say the least. See our exclusive Mobile poll on the S5 and our report on the industry reaction to the phone.
While prudence has the benefit of avoiding unnecessary risk, the lacklustre industry reaction to the S5 is a clear reminder that there is nothing more imprudent than excessive prudence.
Andy Grove’s words, which continue to echo over the ages, remind us that paranoia (the often rational fear that the competition is out to get you) leads to the creative risk-taking which is essential to any enterprise where the stakes are high. That is what is missing from the S5. No doubt the S5 will sell well this year and next – the halo effect of the Galaxy S2 and S3 will see to that. But had Samsung dared to innovate faster than its competitors could imitate, the tantalizing question would be: how much better would the S5 have sold?
We may never know. But one thing we do know for sure is that, in the mobile industry a healthy dose of paranoia may not be such bad thing.