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Hard and Fast

There is NO silver bullet

By Antonios Karantze, in , posted: 19-May-2010 22:28

About this time 9 years ago, I was sitting in a management meeting with my Director of Marketing, and we were reviewing the latest iteration of a truly dismal situation. The telco bubble had burst, 3G was a bust, and a huge internal project to install GPRS and MASSIVE ISP infrastructure had just gone through it's 3rd rescoping. From the hubris of a fully connected world where everything ran off a PDA - a state the world only managed to get to in 2009 with the iPhone 3GS - came the realisation that the only proposition available was. basic colour WAP over GPRS, using the classic Ericsson T65 handset.

Out of sheer frustration, my director uttered the immortal words in his best James Bond "Gentlemen. I want a killer app in 2 weeks". a meeting that still amuses me to this day, although it was anything but funny at the time (the project bill by this point was bordering on ?55m). Since that time I have many more 'amusing' meetings, where out of sheer frustration at the world of complexity, decisions have been made to pursue a technology or a specific way of selling come hell or high water, hoping this eventual silver bullet will prove to be what unleashes torrents of success and money.

A little bit like throwing $48bn at a fibre network (Australia) or $10bn (NZ - you didn't think the country would be rewired for less than that, did you?). This is the silver bullet to unlock all our problems. Especially if you actively destroy the existing technology and force everyone to start again.

Or maybe deregulating the Building Act, to make it faster cheaper and easier to build new houses. now there's a silver bullet to get the economy going. Too bad that people don't get the difference between treated and untreated timber, or what living in NZ's wet climate really is like (we have been here for a great many years. not that much has changed!)

The expression, 'No Silver Bullet', comes from a book written by software engineer Fred Brooks in the 80's. He wrote
".there is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even one order of magnitude [tenfold] improvement within a decade in productivity, in reliability, in simplicity." While Brooks insists that there is no one silver bullet, he believes that a series of innovations attacking essential complexity could lead to significant (perhaps greater than tenfold in a ten-year period) improvements.

Over the christmas break - while having a ball with my Telecom XT connection - I read a book called 'How the Mighty Fall' by Jim Collins. His main premise was that successful companies get arrogant, start to decline but fail to recognise until the decline is too late, then throw resource and money at the problem until it's fixed. which almost never happens, and they carry on as 'zombie' companies until closed down or sold off. Basically you'd have to be spectacularly bad to fail outright. it's more a case of gradual decline. Probably true for a large corporate trading on old successes.. I think smaller companies don't have this sort of luxury!

So how many companies s do you see out there lurching from strategy to strategy, product launch to product launch, always consuming more and doing more but never quite seeming to succeed?

Success is'nt about just striking the right mix - although that's important to. It's about endeavouring to understand your market, trying, adjusting, reflecting, going back and refining and keeping at it. It's about consistency mixed with execution. It's about staying the course and holding your nerve, and not backing away when it starts to look hard. And it's about trusting the people around and beneath you, while also supporting - and verifying - that things are on the right course. It's also about communicating widely and taking feedback from all places - not just those you work with day by day, but everyone. If the cleaner can tell you what you're about - you know a lot of effort has gone into living and breathing what you're doing.

It may not be widely known, but Apple launched the iPod in 2001, as a followup to the nascent MP3 market started by the Diamond RIO (I had one of those. good gadget). But they applied continuous effort to innovation, change, and were lucky enough to have some powerful management able to leverage content. In 2003 iTunes went Windows. In 2004 the 15GB iPod's came out, and then things really started getting interesting.

Imagine sitting in that meeting at Apple in 1999, with a Director proclaiming "Gentlemen. I want a killer app in 2 week", and proposing what iPod has become. Brass ones for sure.

Bring on the Broadband.

Other related posts:
2Degrees prepay price change
Consolidation (“and then there were fewer”)
Introducing the Hot New Social Network (updated!)

Comment by kiwitrc, on 28-May-2010 19:23

Excellent read, thanks.

antoniosk's profile

Antonios Karantze
New Zealand


Antonios has been actively employed in the IT & Technology sector since 1991, and has worked on many commercials projects and products in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom. Working in product or actively managing programmes of work, he has always focused on building for the end customer, and not just promoting new technologies. Industry experience includes all telecommunications areas for business and private customers, private insurance, loyalty, media, energy and gambling. 

Since 2013, he has been involved with the development and launch of many popular smartphone applications in New Zealand, including

- TAB Mobile
- AMI & State Insurance digital experience
- Fly Buys
- Newshub for web and app
- Genesis Energy & Energy Online
- MyACC for Business

Genuinely passionate about technologies, internet and computing in general, he lives in the city he was born in - Wellington, New Zealand, the creative heart of hub of digital sector for the country.