I have been reading the Mini-Microsoft blog. Man, does he paint a negative picture of Microsoft. The company comes across as floundering and ineffective. Consumed with forced rankings in performance reviews and seemingly unable to ship out products in a timely fashion.
I watched Steve Jobs last night here. He was announcing yet another wave of new products. Innovative. Exciting. The way I used to remember Microsoft. I found myself being inspired by his genuine passion for creating really cool products.
So what is the problem at Microsoft? BusinessWeek asked Jobs that question. Fascinating dialog:
Q: What can we learn from Apple’s struggle to innovate during the decade before you returned in 1997?
A: You need a very product-oriented culture, even in a technology company. Lots of companies have tons of great engineers and smart people. But ultimately, there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together. Otherwise, you can get great pieces of technology all floating around the universe. But it doesn’t add up to much. That’s what was missing at Apple for a while. There were bits and pieces of interesting things floating around, but not that gravitational pull.
People always ask me why did Apple really fail for those years, and it’s easy to blame it on certain people or personalities. Certainly, there was some of that. But there’s a far more insightful way to think about it. Apple had a monopoly on the graphical user interface for almost 10 years. That’s a long time. And how are monopolies lost? Think about it. Some very good product people invent some very good products, and the company achieves a monopoly.
But after that, the product people aren’t the ones that drive the company forward anymore. It’s the marketing guys or the ones who expand the business into Latin America or whatever. Because what’s the point of focusing on making the product even better when the only company you can take business from is yourself?
So a different group of people start to move up. And who usually ends up running the show? The sales guy. John Akers at IBM is the consummate example. Then one day, the monopoly expires for whatever reason. But by then the best product people have left, or they’re no longer listened to. And so the company goes through this tumultuous time, and it either survives or it doesn’t.
Q: Is this common in the industry?
A: Look at Microsoft — who’s running Microsoft?
Q: Steve Ballmer.
A: Right, the sales guy. Case closed. And that’s what happened at Apple, as well.