50th Anniv – Showmanship

50th Anniv – Showmanship

This post is the 3rd installment of celebrating the historic first cellular call by our legendary Marty Cooper. As you know by now that Monday marks the 50th anniversary of that historic moment. Today, I will focus my attention on “showmanship.” I am so glad that Marty devotes chapter 8 to this discussion in “The Theater of Innovation.”

Again, let’s transport back in time to Q1 1973.

Motorola pushed through at frantic pace to come up with a working prototype of the first handheld cell phone. How do you make the biggest splash? Remember the initial goal for the prototype was to change minds and the target was the FCC. It was to prove it to them that an alternate view of the cellular systems exists and is possible. Only then they might allow for inviting competitors into the market. Here comes the art of “storytelling”, “showmanship”, and “planned serendipity.”

Marty very early on watched his mother sell corsets in downtown Chicago realized that do bring products to market, you need to sell internally, to the partners, to the customers, and all the key stakeholders. Of course, none of this will work if it is not backed by a really solid product/service and vision.

That historic call on April 3, 1973 was well planned (even though in a hurry) and orchestrated (though things didn’t go as planned) and Marty had the uncanny chutzpah of calling his respected rival to make it more spicy. The call had the intended effect and FCC changed their mind.

There is a less known part of the story that is also worth highlighting. After winning the battle, Motorola thought it will be just a few short years before their dream will be a reality. But it took another 10 years before the cell phones came to the market. And it would have taken even longer had it not been a moment of planned serendipity by Motorola CEO Bob Galvin in 1982. He was visiting the White House and dropped by to see his friend VP George H. W. Bush (they worked together at CIA). Bob brought the DynaTAC cell phone which Bush didn’t recognize. Inquisitive Bush asked what it was, and Bob said, “Why don’t you call Barbara?” He did and asked, “Has Ron (Reagan) seen this?” After the policy meeting that day Bush urged Bob to linger around and said to Reagan, “Ron, you’ve got to see this thing.”

Bob said, “Mr. President, this is a portable phone. It should have been on the market. It will be out pretty soon.” Reagan took the phone and made a call and asked for the status of the device. Bob said, “Well, Mr. President, it’s languishing .. at the FCC ..” Reagan winced at Bob’s manipulation and told his aide, “GO tell the FCC Chairman that I want this released.”

The phone was in the market in Q4 1983.

This notion of showmanship and storytelling will play out in the wireless and tech industry time and time again.

As a sidenote for the history buffs, my friend Peter Lewis (who coined IoT in 1985) was called by the secret service to retrofit President Reagan’s Limo with the phone service in the Motorola shop in Prince Georges County in 1984. Peter will go on to start Cellular Phone in Dec 1983.

Here are first two posts for background –

50th Anniv – The Call

50th Anniv – The Vision