What BlackBerry's major 2016 shift means for companies looking to pivot

The tech giant tweaked its raison d’etre in 2016—and it wasn’t to go bigger

Most realists stopped hoping for the Great BlackBerry Comeback around the time former co-CEOs Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis jumped ship in 2012. And while there is scant evidence to suggest the Waterloo, Ont., firm is set to revisit its glory days (its valuation was $83.4 billion in 2008; it’s $4.3 billion now), in 2016 it took the bold step of redefining its identity as a smaller, more focused and, arguably, more sustainable business.

In September, BlackBerry announced long-gestating plans to outsource all hardware design and development to others; the company that made the Curve as ubiquitous as Starbucks cups is now directing all its attention to its software interests. The move follows a gradual erosion of the company’s ability to compete with Apple and Samsung in the smartphone and device realm. Many pundits have long expected BlackBerry to be bought out. But leadership chose instead to pivot—and not, as is usually the case with dramatic course changing, into something bigger. “The market has spoken, and I’m just listening,” said CEO John Chen following the announcement. “You have to evolve to what your strength is, and our strength is actually in the software and enterprise and security.” And the market seems to agree. After news broke, BlackBerry’s stock jumped more than 5%.

What may just make this retrenchment work is the still considerable, but precarious, goodwill the firm’s core users—business people—have toward the brand. A leaner BlackBerry must innovate relentlessly to keep their favour. In restating its mandate, the company has declared, loudly, that it is hungry again.