There is a lot of “cool” potential in microsoft.
The smoothness with which the digital ink flows on the tablet is COOL. The “wow” moment when you see your scribble turn into real words is Cool. The Think in Ink campaign was Cool. The first impression of the xbox bootup and menu transitions screamed Cool. The media browser demo is Cool. Photo Triage is Cool.
Microsoft’s problem has not been that they haven’t made cool stuff (or they don’t have potentially cool stuff), it has always been the perennial confusion about where to be cool and where not. When you are catering to billions of people in the world – this can be a problem. Should windows xp be cool or practical? Or, is there a balance that can be struck somewhere? And this dilemma manifests in so many ways, included many of those that the critical comments on Robert’s blog post demonstrate (including references about the boring naming schemes).
Coolness is not a universal phenomenon. What is cool to a 19 year old college kid is very rarely what is cool for a 28 year old homemaker, or a 35 year old investment banker.. (or whoever else – you get the point). When a product is created, and you really want to cash in on “cool”, you want to know who you want to be cool to and then execute on that.
Almost all of what Robert said in his blog post are valid approaches to creating cool. But there had to be a preamble and a postscript to that post. Pick the audience, pick the team that understands the audience and then give them autonomy to execute. Then, unlike what seems like is being done to the tablet today (and to a lesser extent to xbox), please do NOT confuse the team as to what direction they need to go. There have been many occassions when teams in MS have been asked to be “cowboys” and do something cool – but that mandate rarely seems to last. Robert sounded like he was asking for yet another cowboy team but one that by taking a completely open approach (I do think he might have done better off by not bringing up “open source”) would have a more lasting effect on the company and the market.
Like how Apple has demonstrated, it is with focus – however narrow it might initially be – that you will get to be cool – and then it is not that difficult to expand the boundaries to include many more people who join those who think you are cool.
Ed’s complaint, mostly in support of the team, seems to have interpreted Robert differently than what I would. I work at a company whose culture is not that dissimilar to Microsoft’s and I also had my dose of MS corporate/campus culture in the past. There are a lot of people who are very proud of what they are doing in the company – and if something like this comes at them, especially from a fairly well regarded internal source, it hurts.
The problem as I see here is that Ed interpreted Robert’s post as a criticism of what the team’s doing. I very easily said in my post above things (Then, unlike what seems like is being done to the tablet today (and to a lesser extent to xbox), that if written even a wee bit different, sound like I am accusing the team. If there is any criticism in the first place, it is mostly directed towards the top – to maybe Bill himself, saying, ‘Sir, there has been a lot of emphasis placed from time to time on how MS needs to work like an agile small company. But so far the message and the execution have not gelled’. It is a plea to the company saying ‘please empower the team’.
Ed clarifies in his post by saying “However, if you look at Microsoft’s mobile devices initiative, it sometimes takes years (especially for Smartphone) to get unofficial agreements to turn into official product announcements, and even then it takes a really long time to bring these things to market… This is what I feel needs to be fixed. MS has the clout and agility (especially when pushed from the top) to change such things. If Bill notes Robert’s letter and decides to take action – I expect it not to be something that de-emphasizes all that the team is doing, but one that empowers them to be “cowboys of cool”.