I'll keep this post short. It's about Microsoft, its outgoing CEO, Steve Ballmer, and what sort of questions the company really should ask as it seeks new leadership. It's meant to provoke a discussion, so please feel free to say your piece:
Question one: Where is technology in five years time?
Technology is changing. There was a time when the computer world was defined by inventors and geeks, but these days the power has shifted. These days the power is with end users. Technology gives them solutions, but consumers now understand what's on offer.
What do they need? Are we looking at a space in which wearable technologies offer all the control over digital space a user needs, the tools that user needs to improve or augment their life and the capacity to seek new information as and when it is required?
The privacy debate means something in this. Where is the company that can offer solutions such as these while also offering complete consumer privacy?
Question two: What went wrong?
Microsoft had a bit of trouble with the DOJ. It resisted attempts to break the company up into different business units: software; operating systems; hardware.
Was this really the right decision? Might the company not have enjoyed more success if it had divided itself into new business units in that way? Did the company's attempt to remain the monolith it had become actually harm that entity's business flexibility?
Was Steve Ballmer really to blame for what appears to be failure in managing a mature corporation that was attempting to define itself through a series of previous historical accidents, built on a historical foundation of anti-competitive practises? How many of Microsoft's problems can be defined as reflective of that corporate inflexibility?
Question three: Has history moved on?
Has the company confused its dominance across some sectors of its business with relevance? Did the company forget the historical foundations of that dominance? Did it confuse profits with presence? Has the company ceased to occupy a useful place within the social fabric in which it has become so deeply woven? If it did, how can it represent itself? Should it be a consumer company?
I don't think it should be a consumer company. I think Microsoft should look to the consumer markets in order to discover inspiration for premium versions of consumer solutions for use in enterprise markets.
It should focus on ease of use, collaboration, privacy, deployment of open standards SaaS solutions and a desire to become a good global corporate citizen (including taking steps to ensure all Windows licensees maintain a high (Apple and above) level of commitment to good working conditions. We can end poor working conditions in technology-related workshops across the globe with that one step, and it would make the company look good -- potentially enabling workers in those factories to buy the medicines the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation currently provide to some of them.
It's about relevance. How might the company become a relevant fighting force across the international consciousness, rather than the slightly unpopular, slightly flawed presence it currently "enjoys".
Question four: What are Microsoft's strengths?
Microsoft has so much going for it, but it might benefit by changing its attitude toward those advantages. It has a dominant operating system that perhaps could benefit from being simplified and made available on a more open basis (subject to the above). Does it really need that money? Or is it more true to say, that swapping money for relevance may give the firm a chance to dig its way out of its current predicament.
Operating systems, enterprise presence, deep integration across multiple business sectors and industries, its installed base, its success with some of its consumer products -- these are some of its strengths.
So why has it played such a poor hand with those strengths it does possess?
Question five: Are you a politician, or a visionary?
We're sick of politicians. We need leaders with purpose: Creative people who take us to a future of new possibility, rather than marching us further into the mundane. If that's what the world needs then why should the world's biggest OS company settle for anything less?
These are just a few questions for the company as it seeks a new CEO.
Microsoft, is Microsoft, sure, but the Microsoft Microsoft is today doesn't necessarily need to be the same Microsoft it will be tomorrow. Things do not need to stay the same. Why should they? Ballmer's resignation says its time to change.
Microsoft faces great problems, but also great opportunities.
Microsoft does not need more of the same. It needs leadership that kicks over the old statues and uses its money and resources to return it to a space in which it can become relevant again. It has a chance to achieve something great.
Either that, or maybe Samsung will buy it.
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