First off, I’m not a Microsoft basher: We have a Windows 7 PC (Dell) that we use for accounting and database work. It was inexpensive and works great more than three years after we bought it.
And I looked at the Surface before buying a Kindle Fire HD 7. Nice little machine, but much too expensive for what I use a tablet for. I didn’t buy an iPad mini, either, for much the same reason. At this point, I should confess that my wife and I own three Macs, an iPad, and two iPhones, and if I can nurse my nearly 5 year old MacBook, which I’m using to write this, until the fall or early 2014, I’ll most likely buy a MacBook Pro.
With that off my chest, there were a couple of great articles this week on the Fall of the House of Microsoft.
First, from John Naughton in The Guardian, “How Microsoft spent a decade asleep on the job” (it says something that a company can sleep for a decade and still have a market cap of $266 B).
How else can one explain the way they failed to notice the importance of (successively) internet search, online advertising, smartphones and tablets until the threat was upon them? Or were they just lulled into somnolence by the sound of the till ringing up continuing sales from the old staples of Windows and Office?
As Naughton notes, the big problem for Microsoft was that they survived the early Internet threat too easily, successfully using their near-monopoly in operating systems to take down Netscape. Then Gates left and the big sleep began. After that, who could argue that their strategy wasn’t correct, so the company settled down to reenact the Warring States Period within its own divisions (and without Sun Tzu).
On that same day, the ever-insightful Chris Matyszczyk at Cnet posted “Should Microsoft keep bashing Apple, Google?” You can get the flavor from the subtitle: “Despite financial disappointments, Microsoft has offered a new, more aggressive stance toward competitors. Instead of telling people that Apple is bad, should Microsoft start telling people why it’s good? Or is that too hard?” Then he also suggests a company asleep at the switch:
However, when you look at the latest strategy for the company expressed by CEO Steve Ballmer, it still isn’t terribly single-minded: “To execute even better on our strategy to deliver a family of devices and services that best empower people for the activities they value most and the enterprise extensions and services that are most valuable to business.” Try writing an ad that expresses that mess. It’s much easier — and simpler — to bark at the other dogs’ ankles. Even if it means trying to claim that the severely price-cut Surface RT is far, far better than the iPad.
One nice thing about the Microsoft mess — it’s yet another example of how size and money don’t guarantee strategic success. As I’ve argued here and in Certain to Win, success tends to lock orientation, so that the organization’s actions become increasingly stereotyped and predictable. It takes an incredibly strong culture and leadership to break out of this pattern; it’s so much easier just to milk it.
There’s a quote often attributed to the elder von Moltke, architect of the victories over France and Austria that unified Germany in the mid-19th century, that nicely sums up this situation: Victory makes you stupid. Not the people, because there’s no reason to think that the people at Microsoft are any less smart than they ever were, but the organization.