I have enormous performance anxiety at the moment. The world’s turned to look this way for a few scant moments and everyone else is rising to the challenge and I’m just hiding. And it looks like I’m not the only one. Apparently, loads of Microsoft employees are using iPods instead of Microsoft-related products. You may not see the direct connection here, but everyone’s looking at the digital music arena at the moment, Apple are doing tremendously well in it and there’s absolutely no reason why Microsoft couldn’t just look at their competitors, pull themselves together and go out there and try and create something even greater. It’s not like they’re short of cash or bright people. But instead they’re burying their heads and pretending it isn’t happening:
An internal e-mail circular sent to several senior managers in mid-December talked about iPod shipments to Apple’s nearby store in Bellevue1. The e-mail said: “FWIW, the gal at the Bellevue Square Apple Store said that they are getting in two shipments of 200 iPods every day to keep up with this week’s demand, and are nearly constantly selling out.”
The note prompted a curt reply from Dave Fester, general manager of the Windows Digital Media division, who wrote the group: “I sure hope Microsoft employees are not buying iPods. We have great alternatives…” Fifteen minutes later, the manager responded: “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m sure that Microsoft employees are not buying iPods, or Macs or PlayStations.”
I find this totally stunning and completely wrong-headed. Microsoft are trying to play the loyalty card to get their own staff to use their products even when they don’t want to? They’re making it a matter of fealty? This is no way to be creative – it’s no way to operate in a commercial marketplace today. People don’t make better products by not using the best ones that currently exist. And companies don’t spot trends and opportunities by forcing their employees to lose faith in their own preferences and choices and become forced proselytisers of another’s beliefs.
iPods everywhere is an opportunity for Microsoft. It sounds ridiculous but it’s true. That there’s a market that they haven’t conquered – a space they haven’t won it – should be the greatest reason to aspire to greatness. That there is something beautiful and functional in their midst that is worth admiring shouldn’t be ignored just because they didn’t make it. It should inhabited and ripped apart – explored and enjoyed, all with aspiration to see the cutting edge – the popular choice – and look to see how it could be surpassed.
It comes down to having respect for your craft and for the world in which you live. If you want to make great things then first you have to know what makes something great. And if you want people to make things that trigger enthusiasm in others then a good start would be to encourage that same enthusiasm in your staff. Making something that’s true to itself is much easier when you’re honest about its failings. Wise up guys, let them have their iPods. Let them learn from them, let them revel in them and then get them in a room and think of something that’ll blow it away…