Rediscovering Microsoft's Soul
I have been using Microsoft products ever since I was given my first computer. My relationship with Microsoft’s products has been contentious, but I’ve always been seduced or re-seduced by their potential.
At their best, they gave me one of the first great products available to mass market: Office and Windows. But at their worst, infuriating. They are always so close to being better than they are. But somehow they fail to pass that line every single time.
Why Microsoft keeps launching bad products? Don’t they have one of the best talents that work on their products? Don’t they have the most advanced technology and the most money to do something about it? Apparently, it’s not enough. But there is more to that.
A story about a nerd who gave everyone a PC and changed the world
Bill Gates can be considered a legend because he was one of the first pioneers in the industry. Due to his work and effort, all of us today can use their products that impact our lives. The mission he instilled and the change he brought onto the world is phenomenal. A computer in every house with a windows OS is beyond imaginable. Something I am grateful he did. And if it weren’t for Microsoft, I wouldn’t have been writing this article right now.
But Gates wasn’t a visionary like Steve Jobs. He was more of a practitioner who always wished for the best and affordable technology for everyone. And he achieved this mission. Microsoft does have the best technology on the market. Something that other companies should learn from them on how to do it. Heck, they were so advanced that their inventions could help Microsoft solidify their position on the market as one of the most innovative company. Could you imagine having Microsoft instead of Apple setting the industry standard? But they lost. Why? They lacked end to end design thinking, their ego grew too big, and they focused their energy too much on competitors.
Microsofts was first but came last
Microsoft was first on the market with a tablet. A decade before Jobs came with the iPad. Apple’s iPad is a revolutionary product that changed the PC industry. But it wasn’t Steve Jobs’ idea. A full decade before Jobs launched the iPad in 2010, Bill Gates launched Microsoft’s touch input tablet computer. But do you see them better than Apple? Nope.
They were ahead of Amazon with an e-reader
Could you imagine if these guys implemented those inventions? There would be no one on the market standing in front of them. Do you see them making e-readers and being the best? Nope. So what happened? Why they are not the leaders of innovation if it is all about being first with a product on the market or having the most and best features?
It’s because Microsoft was afraid to disrupt its successful products. And this way you end up having Microsoft Office the second most successful product in the history. And what about the rest? Well, they are the rest.
Why could they not disrupt its products?
As mentioned, Microsoft lacked end to end design thinking. They have not been organised enough. And their ego for most advanced software grew so big, they missed the train. They kept milking the cow (Office and Windows) until they got so big, they had to go for new markets, but already being late to the party.
They have phoned in the creative process. They disrespected it, built a mediocre product, compromised, told themselves: “We’ll figure out the rest later”. This means the product is likely doomed before it is even finished. This way the battle will be futile — and expensive.
Look at everything Microsoft has made in the last decade — from the Zune to Bing. This poor company seems resigned to spending billions on marketing products that lose money. Meanwhile, Microsoft Office is still a cash cow after two and a half decades. That’s why keeping a clear head is essential. Don’t waste energy on meaningless fights with your competitors. But is it only all about being focused on your product? It’s not that easy.
Microsoft vs Google
Let’s take as an example the ongoing competition between two tech giants, Microsoft and Google, Gates and Schmidt. A conflict between these two alpha companies seems inevitable from retrospect. But it was avoidable. In the beginning, both of them had their niche. One was making an OS system and the other one a search engine. And you would ask yourself, why would they compete? Lots of business motives. But mainly greed and envy.
As a startup, both companies have been focusing solely on delivering a great product. But as they grew, and needed more market cap, they put an eye on each other. Microsoft obsessed about Google and vice versa. The result you saw it yourself: Internet Explorer vs Chrome, Bing vs Google Search, Office vs Docs, Surface vs Nexus, Cortana vs Google Assistant.
Meanwhile, two big brothers fight over the candy the small one comes and takes it.
Microsoft and Google have been fighting between each other so fiercely and getting drunk in their egos, they did not notice anything around them. Why would you when you are that big? Not paying attention to other companies came at the price of losing their monopoly over the market when Apple came along.
This fight was so fierce that in 2011 Microsoft combined with Google had less market capitalisation than Apple. Can you imagine that? Two biggest tech companies on the planet have been fighting for so long that Apple in silence took the throne of the best company. And no, that’s not an overstatement.
Rivalry causes us to overemphasise old opportunities and copy what worked for others
While you follow the competition, it becomes easier to copy. It is easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know brings zero value to the future of your company. Unless you invest in the difficult task of creating new things, companies will fail in the future no matter how big their profits remain today.
Anyone would fight for things that matter. But some people stubborn so bad that they will fight for things that don’t matter. This twisted logic is part of our human nature. But it is destructive in business. If you can recognise competition as an acid that slowly eats you from inside and not as something of value, you already have a significant advantage.
Hit Refresh for Microsoft
Recently I finished reading a book called Hit Refresh by Satya Nadella, the new CEO of Microsoft. And after reading it, I somehow saw a spark of hope in there that the future is brighter than we think. But most important is that Nadella is trying to redefine the way we collaborate.
In short, Satya Nadella realised that Microsoft should stop competing with other companies for a bigger market cap and finally do two things: make stuff you are good at and collaborate with others. He realised that after so many years of competition and losing sight and focus on what is essential, it’s time for taking a step back. Taking a step back from trying to be the best at market cap, and be the best at collaborating with other companies.
The future is not about competition, but collaboration. The future belongs to those who are willing to sacrifice their ego to a more humane way of living. Collaborate with others rather than compete.
For example, people at Microsoft considered Nadella insane when he decided to introduced Microsoft Office to Apple. He wanted to make it native for iOS devices. You need guts for that. And it was one of his bold moves toward a more collaborative future. The result? Apple got intrigued by the idea and invited them to a meeting to discuss the possibility of building Office for their upcoming (now on the market) iPad Pro.
When you improve someone’s life or add a new product or service that brings value to a stranger — you’re participating in the whole grand human story.
What’s in it for us?
We have to redefine the term competition to design a more meaningful and better future for all us. When you help others to live more fully, that’s what we should call business. Rediscovering how to support and collaborate with others should be our goal and not launching new products for a more significant piece of the pie. Otherwise, we have all the chances to end up as Microsoft.