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.
The costs of innovation have exceeded the benefits, says Umair Haque, and it’s time to move away from this “relic of the industrial era” towards something specifically “built for the 21st century”.Â Haque has dubbed this the almost too hip Awesomeness Manifesto.
The three problems with innovation as it stands, according to Haque:
- Innovation relies on obsolescence.
- Innovation dries up our seedcorn.
- Innovation often isn’t.
The four pillars of new-innovation, or awesomeness:
- Ethical production.
- Insanely great stuff (creativity).
- Thick value (making people authentically better off â€” not merely by adding more bells and whistles).
Let’s summarize. What is awesomeness? Awesomeness happens when thick â€” real, meaningful â€” value is created by people who love what they do, added to insanely great stuff, and multiplied by communities who are delighted and inspired because they are authentically better off.
Disregarding software and much hyperbole (not necessarily mutually exclusive), one might think that recent times have been an innovation desert. This is the opinion of Newsweek’s Michael Mandel who believes thatÂ the lack of innovation over the past decade may be responsible for America’s economic situation.
There’s no government-constructed “innovation index” that would allow us to conclude unambiguously that we’ve been experiencing an innovation shortfall. Still, plenty of clues point in that direction. Start with the stock market. If an innovation boom were truly happening, it would likely push up stock prices for companies in such leading-edge sectors as pharmaceuticals and information technology.
Instead, the stock index that tracks the pharmaceutical, biotech, and life sciences companies in the Standard & Poor’s (MHP) 500-stock index dropped 32% from the end of 1998 to the end of 2007, after adjusting for inflation. The information technology index fell 29%. [â€¦]
Consider another indicator of commercially important innovation: the trade balance in advanced technology products. [â€¦] In 1998 the U.S. had a $30 billion trade surplus in [life sciences, biotech, advanced materials, and aerospace]; by 2007 that had flipped to a $53 billion deficit. [â€¦]
A more indirect indication of the lack of innovation lies in the wages of college-educated workers.
Somewhat related: this week the 2009 State of Innovation Summit was held in Washington DC. “Commentary” from John Wilbanks (runs the Science Commons project at Creative Commons) and from Bioephemera’s Jessica Palmer.
Matt Ridleyâ€”author ofÂ The Red Queen, among othersâ€”discusses the causes of poverty and prosperity, offering new (to me) insights on innovation, technology and markets.
Itâ€™s very clear from history that markets bring forth innovation. If youâ€™ve got free and fair exchange with decent property rights and a sufficiently dense population, then you get innovation. […]
The only institution that really counts is trust, if you like. And somethingâ€™s got to allow that to build. […]
But human beings are spectacularly good at destroying trust-generating institutions. They do this through three creatures: chiefs, thieves, and priests.
via Arts and Letters Daily