19 July 2007

Be Microsoft

I love working on the Mac. I enjoy working in MacBU. These days, however, I'm not so thrilled about the vibe hanging around here at Microsoft as a whole.

We seem to have lost our self-confidence. There is a general and constant focus on "the other guys" these days. It's like everyone is continually contemplating competitive response, rather than acting for our customers. First it's open source software, then it's Linux, then it's Google, now it's Apple. Tomorrow it will be something or someone else. Least someone misunderstand, I'm all for looking out for the competition, but if all your focus is on how to respond to some perceived or real competitive threat, how will you ever be able to innovate, come up with something original or surprise and delight your customers? It's just paralyzing.

I wish folks would just realize that we are not going to be all things to all people. That's okay. We've got a job to do, and we have a very reasonable opportunity to do some very wonderful things. Let's stop worrying about the competition, or about what we can't do just yet. Can't we just focus on making our customers amazingly happy? Perhaps I'm too simplistic, but if we do just that, I really think everything else will work out.

I feel like we've lost our identity looking at and comparing ourselves with others. The insecurity and lack of confidence seems to be everywhere. You can see it in the way employees "defend their Microsoft position" rather than "just tell the story" because it's a good one.

It wasn't always like this.

What's totally ironic about this present situation is that this is exactly where Apple was, only a few years ago. In an interview at the "All Things Digital" Conference this year, Steve Jobs said this about that time at Apple:

[There was this belief that] for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose, and it was clear that you didn’t have to play that game because Apple wasn’t going to beat Microsoft. Apple didn’t have to beat Microsoft. Apple had to remember who Apple was because it had forgotten who Apple was. So for me it was pretty essential to break that paradigm.

There is space in this big old world for everyone, Apple, Google, free software and yes, even Microsoft. We don't have to be Apple to be successful. We don't have to be Google either. We just need to be Microsoft.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post!

And it's not only for Microsoft or Apple: anyone can gain if this kind of thinking is used. You cannot be anyone else but yourself, and that makes life easier, more enjoyable, and you'll perform much better.

Anonymous said...

It's dangerous to run while looking over your shoulders at the other racers.

On the other hand, sometimes you need to make sure you are on the right track. I could be wrong but I remember MicroSoft being a little slow into the internet game (found themselves on the wrong track) and the powers that be are probably terrified of that happening again.

Anonymous said...

David, great post. I agree with your basic premise, but specifically about working here at Microsoft, I don't entirely agree that this issue is as widespread as you imply.

Of course, most of us only see this through the lens of the business unit or organization in which we work. Here in the Online Services Group, and specifically the adCenter space, I don't think we have a myopic vision that success = Google is defeated.

Quite contrary, our position is that the entire digital advertising space is growing leaps and bounds, and we want a bigger piece of that. Parity is important in the fundamentals of technology, especially when you enter an industry late in the game, but I can tell you that our focus is on differentiation. I've never heard anyone talk about overtaking Google's market share in advertising -- only taking a larger share of the growing market.

More realistic is that we will see the market splinter, with more companies entering and offering specialized solutions for segments of the market. I can see that my management team understands this, which is why we're so focused on building out what we think the industry needs.

Anonymous said...

Very good post. You would get fired at well everywhere else should you write that about a company that currently employs you. Middle Management does not like you to cloud is issue with facts, or point out that they have no business in the job they currently hold. Unfortunately most management should be fired immediately since they are the ones limiting the success of a company for their own personal gain. Steve had to gut out middle management to get apple to find apple again and achieve the greatness it now enjoys. Microsoft may have to do some major house cleaning for Microsoft to be successful again as a company. People get set in their ways and don’t push themselves like they used to. These are the kind of people you cannot have around if you want the company to expand and flourish. It's a great way to maintain the status quo.

Anonymous said...

I think one think that is obvious is that Apple have changed the way they approach competition and Microsoft haven't.

Microsoft still seem to have a combative attitude, where everyone is a competitor and the goal is to gain market share at the expense of other companies.

Apple, on the other hand, have moved away from that mindset, and are instead opting to create brand new markets, or to try and grow the existing market in a new direction and win that share, and 'beat' competitors by moving and growing the market to follow their lead.

The iPod didn't kill Nomad's sales, for instance, but instead sell to people who had never had an MP3 player before. The Zune, meanwhile, seems to be marketed to try and steal market share from Apple and others, without actually creating a new and innovative market where they would be unchallenged and win by default.

It seems that victory for Microsoft is the defeat of your rivals, whereas for Apple it's to take the fight onto a battlefield where this is no enemy...

We are seeing the same approach taken with the iPhone; Apple are redefining the business of cellphones and carriers (e.g. removing the subsidy, random-access voicemail and SIM activation online) rather than just making a technologically a advanced handset that any other company could match if they tried.

Anonymous said...

David, your last sentence makes a proclamation without defining a very important term. I'm not trying to be snarky, but I would like to know: What "is" Microsoft?

To Mac fanboys like me, Microsoft is defined as bloatware that hardly anybody really needs but almost everybody must purchase for interoperability reasons. So from my perspective, "being Microsoft" is not a great goal. But that's me.

Again, this is a serious question, David: To help us make sense of your last sentence, what "is" Microsoft, from your perspective?

Anonymous said...

All you need is new management.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post, you should provide your incite to those in "command." I was forced to read a book called "Good To Great" by Jim Collins. At first I was wondering why I was reading it since I am a teacher but a lot of what is in it makes sense. It sure made me look at the people around me in a different light. One of the premisses of the book is that you need to find what you and your company are good at and focus on that instead of worrying what everyone else seems to think or want. Instead of being reactive to outside forces be proactive in what you are doing.

Anyway, just thought I would share


Anonymous said...

Microsoft's problem starts at the top. Ballmer has for years exhibited a bunker mentality. Unless he has some kind of epiphany, MS is stuck.

Anonymous said...

For all the years Apple got undeserved crap from everyone who equated market share with quality, this feels like MS is paying a karmic debt, so I can't say I have a lot of pity for the company as a whole. (But not you MacBU folks; I consider you a separate entity.)

I wouldn't mind seeing more humility out of MS and less ignorance, like, say, when Ballmer knocked the iPhone because of its virtual keyboard before the thing was even out yet. Really, the man is just an embarrassment -- it's as if MS became incredibly successful in spite of him rather than because of him.

Unknown said...

One thing I think is important when we talk about the corporate identity: no identity can be defined without defining the environment in which this identity presents itself. Any government leader is a key person in his country, but could be a moderately known person outside (tell me who is the president of Haiti at the moment?) and is a speck of dust in the scope of the Universe.

Microsoft has come to be as well known in the world as, probably, President Bush. But when you are known in such a large scope, you have a tough time of establishing ANY identity, because it gets totally out of your control. And the worst thing is that the company REALLY starts to behave the way it is identified (if everybody thinks you are a clown, you will sooner or later behave like a clown).

This is a major problem with any company. With focused companies, however, there is some chance to influence their public identity because they are known mainly by their products. It is not like that with Microsoft -- by working actively in all directions MS lost any chance to convince people by what they see or use. And that is a tough problem to solve.