Source: The Wall Street Journal
At Software Giant, Taking the Safe, Profitable Route Often Wins Out Over Innovation
Months before Apple Inc. unveiled its iPad in January 2010, the tech world was buzzing about mockups of a tablet computer from Microsoft Corp. Created by an inventor of the company’s Xbox videogame machine, the Courier folded like a book and let users sketch and jot ideas on a touchscreen.
That spring, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer told employees at Courier’s Seattle laboratory that he was pulling the plug on the device.
Mr. Ballmer said he was redirecting resources to the next version of the company’s Windows operating system, which was more than two years away, according to Georg Petschnigg and other former employees of the lab.
Whoever succeeds Mr. Ballmer at Microsoft will face the challenge of rebooting its corporate culture, in which charting the safe but profitable course—at least for the short term—too often wins out over innovation, say current and former Microsoft employees and other industry executives.
Under Bill Gates and then Mr. Ballmer, who announced his retirement last week, Microsoft honed franchises like Office and Windows to become a financial powerhouse.
The ingredients for success also made Microsoft a graveyard for the kind of big ideas that have inspired companies like Apple, Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. to create new areas of computing.
“If that is the game you’re going to try to play, you’re going to lose,” Mr. Petschnigg said.
So ingrained is Microsoft’s culture of protecting entrenched interests that swinging for the fences is sometimes punished, and so people stopped trying, say current and former employees and outsiders. They say that an outsider CEO may be the best choice to welcome back technologists who think outside the box.
“It is most likely, if not essential,” says management psychologist Thomas Saporito. Read the rest of this entry »