Microsoft’s Creative Destruction

No, this isn’t about “taking joy in Microsoft’s struggles” – why would I? Their products determine the working environment and corporate daily life of billions of people (Sharepoint, Word, Excel et al. ). But this is instructive for innovation managers, people thinking about the innovation of organizational systems and processes, and consultants alike.

Dick Brass, ex-vice president at Microsoft comments on the past and the future of our favourite “unrepentant intentional monopolist” (notice the “”, they’re from the article in the NYT, I would never use such words, would I?).

Unbelievable stories included, like this one:

For example, early in my tenure, our group of very clever graphics experts invented a way to display text on screen called ClearType. It worked by using the color dots of liquid crystal displays to make type much more readable on the screen. Although we built it to help sell e-books, it gave Microsoft a huge potential advantage for every device with a screen. But it also annoyed other Microsoft groups that felt threatened by our success.

Engineers in the Windows group falsely claimed it made the display go haywire when certain colors were used. The head of Office products said it was fuzzy and gave him headaches. The vice president for pocket devices was blunter: he’d support ClearType and use it, but only if I transferred the program and the programmers to his control. As a result, even though it received much public praise, internal promotion and patents, a decade passed before a fully operational version of ClearType finally made it into Windows.

Oh well, the miracles of organizational culture – it can work wonders or it can be outright dysfunctional, stifling innovation. On a more systematic level:

Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.

Well, ideas are aplenty and not the problem – it’s about the follow-up and the implementation … always harder for the large organizations and for those with established and nicely profitable business models to listen to their research departments.

Monster pic by gapingvoid obviously – oh the irony

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