The Wile E Coyote moment

I was very taken with Benedict Evans’ description of the way that companies like Nokia and RIM (BlackBerry) responded to the advent of the iPhone in 2007:

You might call this the ‘Wille E Coyote effect’ – you’ve run off the cliff, but you’re not falling, and everything seems fine. But by the time you start falling, it’s too late.

(Full article here:

Ten years later, the way that the smartphone has become such an intrinsic part of our everyday lives seems perfectly natural, but it’s fascinating to reflect on how much has changed in a such a relatively short period of time. * The first iPhone’s specs ( were incredibly basic when compared with devices now. ** It didn’t have 3G, there was no video camera, it had a screen that was tiny and very low resolution by contemporary standards, and you couldn’t even copy and paste! I think it’s well worth taking a moment to consider what nascent and ‘not quite there yet’ technologies around today are going to have this sort of impact in the next decade…

And the implications of this aren’t limited to gadgets.

My first job after graduating was working for a specialist wine company at a time when their business was being challenged by the big supermarkets, who had realised there was good money to be made providing shoppers with the opportunity to pick up their regular tipple along with their groceries. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t stop the ground shifting beneath our feet and ultimately the company folded. Meanwhile one of our competitors seemed to be breaking all the rules (no town centre shops, case sales only etc) and yet they managed to turn in year on year profit and growth. ***

What I learned from that was that the answers to the challenges we face often aren’t just pushing harder to make our ‘proven strategies’ work.

This is a lesson which seems very relevant to the challenges of working in local government and technology today. The dramatic reductions in council funding (cut by something like 50% from 2010 levels) and the astonishing pace of change in technology mean that we need to challenge all our preconceptions and ask hard questions about what we do and how we do it.

But as well as being very challenging for us and our colleagues, I think this also presents a real opportunity for creativity. Exploring new techniques and technologies, combined with different ways of working and closer partnerships, can help us focus on the citizens we serve and gives us the opportunity to make a real difference. And that matters. A lot.

* I realise that this isn’t unique in the history of technology. For example Microsoft’s success in achieving the audacious (at the time) goal that Bill Gates articulated in 1980 of having ‘a computer on every desk, and in every home’ is equally impressive and transformational.

** I held off getting an iPhone or other smartphone for several years because I couldn’t find one I wanted that included an FM radio like my Nokia N96. Seems bizarre in retrospect!

*** The happy ending is that later on former colleagues managed to resurrect the company, and are now doing a great job of doing what we did best – selling great wine from amazing producers, but with fewer shops and less emphasis on big brands and big ‘discounts’.