Microsoft is a hugely innovative company, but the culture that has developed there has stunted or even thwarted its innovations, suggests former Microsoft Vice President Dick Brass. The ingredients of this culture are numerous, but it has flourished largely because of the company’s structure preventing the development of “a true system for innovation”.
Not everything that has gone wrong at Microsoft is due to internecine warfare. Part of the problem is a historic preference to develop (highly profitable) software without undertaking (highly risky) hardware. This made economic sense when the company was founded in 1975, but now makes it far more difficult to create tightly integrated, beautifully designed products like an iPhone or TiVo. And, yes, part of the problem has been an understandable caution in the wake of the antitrust settlement. Timing has also been poor â€” too soon on Web TV, too late on iPods.
Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive.
Microsoft has responded officially.
After visiting both the Microsoft and Google campuses to discuss Stack Overflow (Google Tech Talk: Learning from StackOverflow.com), Joel Spolsky discusses the similarities and differences between the two corporationsÂ and his ownÂ small company.
What I’ll probably remember most about the trip is what I learned about company culture and how it’s affected by scale. Giant corporations such as Google and Microsoft are like cities full of relatively anonymous people: You don’t actually expect to see anyone you know as you walk around. Going to lunch on either campus is like going to the cafeteria at a huge university. The other 2,000 students seem nice, but you don’t know most of them well enough to sit with them. Meanwhile, a typical lunchtime at my company is like Thanksgiving dinner: There’s a big meal you get to share with a bunch of people you know and like.
I particularly liked Spolsky’s reaction to his discovery that while Microsoft’s campus-wide Wi-Fi network is closed-access and requires registration, Google’s was free and open: “I had to wonder: What might we be doing at our company that is similarly a waste of time?”.
It made me think: What might I be doing that is similarly a waste of time?
Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy and host of the Gel conference, takes a look at Microsoft’s Bing and discusses the problem with Microsoft’s current strategy and ways they can improve.
Customers online don’t respond to a brand marketed to them, they respond to the experience they have. If they can accomplish their goal quickly and easily, they return to the site, and tell their friends. It’s that simple. And if one site already provides a good experience, then there’s no need to consider switching to some other site, no matter what the company brags about itself in its ads.
In the context of what’s being discussed (Microsoft’s recent advertising) I couldn’t agree more with the above sentiments (out of context, however, I feel it’s not entirely accurate).
While the article lacks in certain places, this brief look at Bill Gates Sr. and his relationship with his son is an interesting read with a few amusing anecdotes about the mostly elusive Gates family.
[Bill Gates Sr.]Â and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him. [â€¦]
They enrolled their son in a school that they thought would give him more freedom. That was the private Lakeside School, now known as the place where Bill Gates discovered computers.
Mr. Gates says he began to realize, “Hey, I don’t have to prove my position relative to my parents. I just have to figure out what I’m doing relative to the world.”