Teaching Microsoft to Dance

Thai Elephant

Image courtesy of Aduldej / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twenty-one years ago this month, Lou Gerstner came from RJR Nabisco to take over at IBM. He cut billions of dollars in expenses and made tough decisions that no insider would have made easily, including cutting OS/2 (IBM’s PC Operating System) and eliminating the dress code (pinstripe suits, white shirts, wingtip shoes) and the “no alcohol” policy. At the time, IBM was perilously close to running out of cash. It was expected that Gerstner would oversee the company’s dissolution, but, instead, he executed an extraordinary turnaround that has become a classic business case study.

Certainly the situation today is different at Microsoft, but perhaps no less challenging. Which begs the question: can recently-named CEO Satya Nadella teach Microsoft how to dance?

Satya Nadella certainly forged new ground in his first public speech at Microsoft. For example, he was using an iPad on stage and referencing Android, while there was a relative absence of plugs for Microsoft Hardware.

Here are some of the dimensions of his challenge as I see it:

Old Model New Model
Desktop or Laptop PC Mobile and Cloud
Enterprise I.T. Support Cloud Support
Multi-year Large Enterprise or Package Software Pay-as-you-Go and micro-transactions
Multiple years between major releases A few days (or less) between updates
Focus on I.T. Professional Experience Focus on Consumer Experience
Vertical Stack of Technology Part of a Horizontal Ecosystem
Thick, feature laden client side software Thin mobile or zero footprint services

The list could go on.  Probably the biggest elephant in the room is the culture.  How do you reshape the hide-bound Microsoft ways fast enough to capture market opportunities?  The reshaping of Microsoft has begun—it should be interesting to watch.

In the meantime, I’ll be dusting off my copy of Teaching Elephants to Dance. You can get yours on Amazon for a penny, or spend up for Gerstner’s first-person account, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?


One Comment on “Teaching Microsoft to Dance”

  1. Tom Lenz says:

    Mark, Interesting post. You paint the picture of the issues that MS is facing very well. I think the challenge is bigger than MS itself. For many years MS has relied on revenue from large corporate customers who move as slowly, or even slower than MS itself. In addition to changing the MS culture, Satya Nadella has to has to change the IT culture of their customers, or, to use your line, learn how to dance on a new dance floor.


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