BlackBerry’s corporate rebel story

2011 BlackBerry Bold Touch 9900. Licensed CC BY 4.0. Photo by Steven H. Keys.
Photo by Steven H. Keys

You remember BlackBerry, right? The original smartphone.

Back in the day, Gary Klassen was a software engineer working at BlackBerry. This was years before the iPhone. When BlackBerry was the must-have device. Taking the world by storm.

One day Gary had an idea that he thought could be really big for his company. He knew his manager would never approve this kind of project. So he didn’t ask permission. He just quietly started working on his idea. He still did his regular job. But he also worked on his unofficial skunkworks project. Whenever he could free up some time. Under the radar, where it wouldn’t cause any harm.

Before long Gary’s manager walks by and sees Gary working on the project. He tells Gary to stop “screwing around” and get back to work.

In true maverick style, Gary says, “no problem.” And he keeps working on it. He tries to be more stealthy. But he keeps at it.

Like all corporate rebels, Gary is a model employee in every other way. He does his job. He does it well. Better than just about every other employee at BlackBerry. After all, if you’re working on an “unauthorized” project, you don’t slack off or do shoddy work. Gary’s only crime is having an idea that his manager doesn’t like.

A few months later Gary’s manager walks by and sees that Gary is still working on his project. He gives Gary a bad performance review, and threatens to fire him.

By this point, Gary is all in. Two other corporate rebels have joined the project. Momentum is quietly building in the company. So Gary’s attitude is, “If this guy wants to fire me, he can go ahead. But until then, I’m not stopping. We’re on to something here, and I’m going to see it through.”

As the team makes progress, word spreads. Eventually BlackBerry founder Mike Lazaridis hears about the project. They gave a demo. Lazaridis loves it.

The project becomes BlackBerry Messenger. BBM. The billion-dollar breakthrough for BlackBerry.

Thanks for reading

This series explores the corporate rebel model, and what the history of breakthroughs is trying to teach us.

I’d love you to join in the discussion below.

Kind regards,

Jim Verquist

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