The three warning signs were that there was already strong backing for a competing technology (HD-DVD) that would reach market first. The cost of Blu-Ray was 2x or more over HD-DVD for the players, and the average movie watcher didnt care about video games, or cute special features, they simply wanted to watch the movie while supporters were focused on special features as a differentiator. In short, the big advantage that Blu-Ray had, the buyers didnt care about and were unlikely to.
This is the Emperor Has No Clothes problem that seems to plague companies of all sizes. Someone who should have raised their hands and said, Hey, maybe we should spend our billions on something that could actually result in comparable revenue like maybe fixing the digital delivery of HD content problem, or the mobility problem (putting movies on portable players), or even expending the gaming segment which is what Nintendo did with a fraction of the cash.
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But no, some powerful executive at Sony (and if there was any one company that should have known better its Sony, which remakes this same mistake several times every decade) pushed through an initiative that trashed their strongest asset, the Play Station. Now Sony is stuck. The effort is a hole that takes critical resources and they cant even walk away from it without doing even more damage to critical parts of the company.
To be clear, all Sony has accomplished with a massive waste of resources is assuring that HD optical penetration in the market is about 1/20th of potential. And the collateral damage to Sony will go down in the history books. Its the business equivalent of the Iraq war.
The lesson here really is that folks need to do their homework, and I mean builders not buyers (though it can apply to both), and think about the big picture before making big bets. We started out with Google being repetitively very smart as a young company and ended with Sony being repetitively stupid, suggesting that age does not always make for good decisions, analysis does. Google appears to be doing good analysis with respect to most things (though there are exceptions even there) and Sony is the walking example of what not to do.
Remember to Think
In this piece we talked about Google learning from Microsofts mistakes and Sony not even learning from their own. We also pointed to the Options book by Dan Lyons as a great way to learn about some of the movers and shakers in technology and suggest that reading this book would be vastly more fun and less painful than experiencing some of this stuff first hand.
While I too have made some incredibly stupid mistakes in my life, I try very hard not to make the same mistake twice, and to learn from others because I feel no compelling need to experience pain (though there have been times Ive wondered about this last point).
As we move towards the end of 2007 take a moment to reflect and evaluate the paths you are on. Even the best make avoidable mistakes by not thinking enough.