James O'Neill's Blog

April 10, 2007

Who tells our story – we do, providing we aten’t dead.

Filed under: General musings — jamesone111 @ 11:51 pm

I sometimes tell the following Joke

“When people ask me what I do for a living, I say ‘I work-to-bring-about-the-Kingdom-of-the-anti-christ-on-earth’ and they say ‘Pardon !’ and I say ‘I work for Microsoft’ and they say ‘I thought for a moment you said you worked to bring about the kingdom of the anti-christ’, and I say ‘Yes that people often think that when I say I work for Microsoft”

OK. with material like that I’m not going to get many bookings on the Comedy circuit. But there is a truth about it. King Charles I said “Never make a defence or an apology until you are accused.” Hmmm..

Today in “Why am I working for Microsoft” Hugh MacLeod highlighted a comment from a reader. “One thing you should try and get Microsoft people to do is “STOP BEING SO APOLOGETIC”. Whenever you put a Microsoft person on a platform – they always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes. Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google? Is this what the Blue Monster thing is about (could it become part of it)?”

I responded to the  “Microsoft is dead” meme on Sunday, Mary Jo Foley linked to it, saying ‘Make no mistake: Microsoft is still The Evil Empire. And if my arguments don’t convince you, check out Softie James O’Neill’s list of the “Top 10 things people thought would kill Microsoft and haven’t.” ‘ She called me the Blog Police before. A chap could get a complex about this…  

Hugh also furnished me with a link to this story. Here’s a quote.

Who has the right to tell the Microsoft story? Is it the Steve Claytons and the Robert Scobles? Is it Gates and Ballmer? Is it we, the users? Is it all of the above? And what happens when the story diverges? It seems to me that Gates and Ballmer tell one story — that of Microsoft domination at all costs. Clayton and Scoble tell another story — that of an emerging openness and a thirst for innovation. And the users tell a range of other stories, from “Microsoft is still #1″ to “Microsoft is dead.”

To me, the answer is that everyone tells the story, but at the end of the day it’s the story told by the top leadership that will matter

The last point is obvious. What Messers Gates, Ballmer et al say has more weight than an O’Neill, Clayton or Scoble. (A Scoble could be a unit of influence. Not to be confused with the Scoville, unless the poster is very fiery. I probably rate in the 10s of milliScobles. The impact of a Gates or Ballmer would put them in the KiloScoble range.) 

“Who has the right to speak for Microsoft ?” is a tougher question (so are “Where does it stem from ?” and “What duties come with it ?”). Employees have been given the right to tell the story, by management from Bill Gates downwards, with only one duty: Blog Smart. And as Steve points out there 4500+ other bloggers exercising that right. My father believes PR shouldn’t allow ordinary employees to speak for the company. Hugh’s reader , Richard Stacy has a follow-up post to the “Microsoft is dead” one called PR is dead. It is as my father’s generation knew it. We are all in PR now.
I don’t see that “divergence” I’ve never heard Gates and Ballmer calling for anything “at all costs”, though I was stunned by what I called “the streets will run with the blood of our enemies” rhetoric at my first big Microsoft conference in 2000 . One senior Microsoft exec taunted us “Do you want to be the ones who put the fuel in Larry [Ellison]’s Jet ?”. Ballmer used the story of Muhammad Ali and the Rumble in the jungle and the “rope-a-dope” – Ali spent most of the fight on the ropes soaking up punches before coming back with a decisive punch. A great story, until we got the bit about the fight audience chanting “Ali bomaye!”, which means “Ali, kill him!” I can stile remember Ballmer yelling “Microsoft boom-aye-ay ” and Microsoft people yelling it back. (Shouting Kill him ? KILL ?? )  But I haven’t heard it in 5 years and that pleases me. Gates never spoke like that: Ballmer’s fire has not gone out, but he was the one who started this change in tone, these days his metaphors are of building not killing.

Rights and duties aside, other people do tell the story.  Some are neutral, others biased (not always against us), some call us the evil empire. Who’s comfortable being called Evil ? We’re engineers and marketeers, not mass murderers. Our business isn’t based around polluting industrial processes, we don’t make landmines or use child labor. People expect us to take it (cushioned no doubt by what they imagine we’re paid).  to laugh it off . We “always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes” ?  To get an idea of how we feel, think of Steve Martin in Roxanne doing 20 Jokes about his nose (sorry I don’t know if that scene was in Cyrano De Bergerac). “Hi… yeah… SO … I a work for a Microsoft, you know , the evil empire, We will add your technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile. Ha ha etc” – <hand wring><awkward laugh>. “Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google?”  Try calling them Evil for 10 or 15 years and see.

Microsoft isn’t staffed by saints and there are things we should apologise for; the fact that we aten’t dead isn’t one Here’s an additional 
6 things for which we shouldn’t make a defence or an apology

  • Our products
  • The talent outside the company developing on our platforms
  • Our market share
  • The Money we have to invest developing new products.
  • The talent inside the company to develop new products and bring them to market
  • The passion we have to keep doing it

And yes those form a cycle. And yes if squander the advantages that the Talent, the market share, and the Money give us or lose the passion to Change the world, we may as well go home. Which is where the blue monster came in.

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This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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