The DULLberry – How The Culture of Canadian Conservatism Has Helped Killed RIM Innovation


When I coined the term DULLberry to aptly describe what RIM’s BlackBerry has become, I had two thoughts in mind. Firstly, I imagine a business where innovation has been ‘taxed’  to point of dullness. Lastly, I thought about a product, BlackBerry, which symbolically demonstrates that enervation of innovation. It can be argued from both sides of the fence whether RIM/BlackBerry – in its current state – will thrive or dive. I would suggest it is hard to be definitive that one or the other will be. So I will lean toward a more moderate position, a middle ground and say that RIM will just – survive. I say this not because I have a lack of confidence in the new reign of leadership at RIM or I dislike the BlackBerry for I am quite content with mine. I say this because RIM is a prisoner within the country they reside. Canada is the fertile ground where the DULLberry is grown.

When I refer to Canadian Conservatism, I do not mean Canadians whom lean toward a political right-wing party. However, I am referring to Canadians whose first inclination are to stand pat and wait, and such resist fundamental change especially the way we do business in this global economy. Canadians  who spout off  ‘what’s wrong with RIM’, ‘why can’t they add this feature like the iPhone’, ‘why is my BlackBerry not like the Android…’, are smugly forgetting this aspect of their Canadian meta-narrative or just simply ignorant thereof. An incessant flow of innovation as if turning on the kitchen tap, unfortunately runs against the fabric of being Canadian.

Innovation requires a high-degree of risk. It speaks about uncertainty of the final outcome with your idea, your job, your brand, your reputation and yes…your business. Many Canadians and their companies are highly adverse to strong risk. Of course, risk aversion has its advantages. Our banking institutions have a financial system that is best in the world touted by Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty (our counterpart to Timothy Geithner, the US Secretary of Treasury) and corroborated by the IMF. These economic pillars continue to withstand the quicksand of US sub-prime mortgages and their associated tentacles of financial instruments. Yet, it begets the question: do we have the best banking institution intentionally or incidentally? I would say incidentally. Our banks did not set out to be world’s best (as far as public branding goes). Their success in this regard is a by-product of Canadian Conservatism, which has helped anchor our economy from sinking into the abyss with those in Europe.

Now that’s the good news! Canadian Conservatism will keep us a float. What’s the bad news? It means Canadian Conservatism will just keep us a float. A key distinguishing feature between America and Canada is that Americans have a culture of risk-taking. From sending people to the Moon to sending people to war, these require a great deal of risk. When talking to the average American, there is a prevailing attitude of being number one. And they will prove why it’s so, courtesy of their politicians. American executives’ conversations are saturated with doing work differently – doing work better. Many tend to ask where is the next seminar on leadership, what cutting-edge knowledge can I scoop up to win or how can I grow my business and myself to the next level. To this mass of people, there is a hunger for going where no one has gone before. There is a insatiable hunger for innovation. These men and women will go and get it. That attitude is rooted in the American dream. It is part of their meta-narrative for better or for worse.

Many Canadians on the other hand will watch-and- wait and perform smoke tests on these innovations. If it does not blow up, then we will jump on board. If it blows up, we are seen as the wiser for sensible caution. (I would adapt Bobby McFerrin’s song of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to ‘Don’t worry, Be Cautious’ as our national ditty.) Now the drawback with that attitude is that it is hard for us as Canadians to be or stay number one in the realm of business. If it is endemic to our culture to have a wait-and-see attitude, how on earth do we expect our Canadian companies like RIM NOT to naturally drift toward that risk-averse attitude? If Canadian companies who are ran predominantly by Canadians and employ predominantly Canadians that come out of risk-averse culture, how will these individuals will all of sudden be something different than being Canadian?

This is my point. If RIM was an American company, I would dare to say RIM would be ahead of Apple. Quite simply, not because of leadership alone, but because they would have access to a cultural hotbed of risk-takers. RIM would be a microcosm of the daring American populous. The risk-taking attitude of the American culture will spill over into the work environment spurring on innovation. It is just inevitable.

I wish RIM all the best in their transformation efforts but just know, RIM has to buck the trend toward Canadian Conservatism… or risk being called DULLberry.

~ Denley W. McIntosh

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