Monday, February 13, 2012

Meet the strawman

The Globe and Mail has an interview with Roger Martin, a Canadian business professor who is on RIM's board of directors. Martin angrily dismisses criticisms of the company and the way it's been handled, and offers this rebuttal to the idea that RIM should seek to be more like Apple:
“They ask ‘Why can’t you be more like Apple?’ So we should go bankrupt and fire our founders and bring in a moron? That’s what we should do?” Mr. Martin says.
Perhaps from his business school days, Martin appears to be familiar with the strawman argument. This is the style of argument in which you confront your opponents by pretending that they are arguing a ludicrous point, and then debunk it.

In this example, those who point to Apple as a model for RIM are probably suggesting that RIM should have paid more attention to the consumer market, and that they should probably not have released a tablet so unpolished that it lacked a native email client. In the smartphone space, Apple has developed a clear and focused strategy -- develop the best, most user-friendly smartphone in the world -- and pursued it aggressively, while RIM has alternately looked arrogant, complacent, and half-assed. There are Apple characteristics that RIM would do well to emulate.

Martin, however, doesn't respond to that argument. Instead he pretends that critics are arguing the absurd point that RIM should emulate the worst period in Apple history, rather than the best. The fact that Martin offers a strawman argument in a public forum speaks poorly of him; the fact that the Globe and Mail reporter  apparently didn't challenge him on the point speaks poorly of his publication, as well.

Strawman arguments accomplish nothing; they don't move the conversation forward, they don't assert the strength of your position, and only morons would think you can win an argument that way. This is one more example of what happened to RIM: they respond to outside challenges with scorn and contempt, and meanwhile the market passes them by.