Sunday, April 09, 2006
Over-Share from Dr. Evil’s Hideaway
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my underground lair.
Another year, another fawning article about the way Bill Gates runs Microsoft.
Last year it was the Wall Street Journal’s turn to describe Mr. Gates’ near-mythic visits to a cottage on a lake in order to Think Big Thoughts about the Future of Technology, all alone—no friends, no family allowed—with only a caretaker who “slips him two simple meals a day.”
As I pointed out at the time (see “Bill’s Hideaway” from March 28, 2005), perhaps if Bill had instead merely spent a couple of hours each morning at the local Starbucks watching how real people actually use technology, he might have come up with something more in tune with what human beings want or need—a great search engine, perhaps; or a simple wireless email device—instead of a tablet PC and a word processor with an “Insert Button” that you use only when you accidentally touch it and it begins deleting things while you type, so that you have to touch it again to get it to stop deleting things.
But he does not. And thus we have the Insert Button—a technology only Dr. Evil could admire.
Now, almost a year to the day after the insider's view of Bill's Hideaway by the lake, Fortune Magazine has apparently been cajoled by Gates’ PR people to publish yet another insider’s story, this time written by Gates himself.
“How I Work: Bill Gates,” it is called, and sure enough, technology’s richest monopolist describes how he actually manages a company that has been sliding into irrelevance ever since the internet came along and allowed consumers to bypass its stranglehold on personal computing.
It is, I think, a sad read. Gates’s words come across not as insightful and informative in the Jack Welch how-I-get-things-done management style, but as the self-impressed noodlings of a man in control of a very large, very rich and very powerful organization who appears to have lived almost frozen in time—the Doctor Evil of the software business, who sees the world the same way he saw it thirty years before without wanting to believe how radically it has changed.
An overstatement, you say? Well, Gates begins the article by describing—and I am not making this up—the three computer screens on his desk.
These three magical screens are “synchronized to form a single desktop” which allows him to drag items “from one screen to the next.” This, he solemnly declares, “has a direct impact on productivity.”
Yes, the CEO of the world’s largest software company begins “How I Work” by lovingly describing a desktop computer setup that sits on every trading desk in every high-rise office building from Wall Street to Moscow by the hundreds: multiple screens linked to the same computer.
Bizarrely, there is no mention of his key managers, software engineers, or any other people in his opening paragraph: just a description of how he has three computer screens all tied together.
Gentlemen, I have a plan. It's called blackmail.... Either the Royal Family pays us an exorbitant amount of money, or we make it look like Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, has had an affair outside of marriage.
Moving on, Gates describes how each screen has a different function, and here you might imagine you are reading a parody of how a brilliant, nerdy, lines-of-code-centric guy would manage a large enterprise:
“The screen on the left has my list of emails. On the center screen is usually the specific e-mail I’m reading and responding to. And my browser is on the right-hand screen.”
I am not making that up, either. Nor am I making up sentences such as:
"We’re at the point now where the challenge isn’t how to communicate effectively with e-mail, it’s ensuring that you spend your time on the e-mail that matters most." (As opposed to, say, ensuring that people actually want to use your products. )
All in all, we learn much, much more than we ever need to know about the way Mr. Gates Runs His Company.
My daughter calls this kind of stuff “Over-share.”
We learn he’s “not big on to-do lists.” We learn he likes to “check the folders that are monitoring particular projects and particular blogs.” We learned he’s “very disciplined about ignoring” a “little notification box that comes up in the lower right [of Outlook] whenever a new e-mail comes in.”
And we learn that he’s “getting ready for Think Week,” the cabin-by-the-lake sojourn where Mr. Gates will “read 100 or more papers from Microsoft employees” about “issues related to the company and the future of technology.”
Finally, we learn Bill still keeps an old-fashioned whiteboard in his office with “nice color pens.” It is, he tells us, “great for brainstorming when I’m with other people, and even sometimes by myself.”
After reading the entire piece, which contains much more of this kind of stuff, you begin to wonder how a company can survive management-by-email. Of course, as Microsoft-watchers know, the reality is that Gates does not manage the company by himself.
Finally, I come to my Number Two man. His name: Number Two.
Ex-Procter & Gamble assistant product manager Steve Ballmer is “Number Two” to Gates’ Dr. Evil. Ballmer is a smart, funny, loud, in-your-face promoter of all things Microsoft—the first business manager ever hired at a company founded by software nerds, and crucial to the company’s rise to power.
Oddly enough, the previous edition of Fortune Magazine contained an interview with “Number Two,” which provided a fascinating insight into why Dr. Evil and his Evil Henchmen sitting around the shiny Evil Conference Table in Microsoft’s underground lair appear so out of touch with the Austin Powers-ish free-swinging technology innovation pouring forth from upstarts in Mountain View, Cupertino and elsewhere.
In a story titled “The Sleeping Giant Goes on the Offensive,” Ballmer is asked by the Fortune reporter if he has an iPod:
“No, I do not. Nor do my children…. I’ve got my kids brainwashed: You don’t use Google, and you don’t use an iPod.”
There you have it: the key business manager of the most important technology company ever created (by people far smarter and richer than yours truly) deliberately excludes from his household two of the most important technology innovations of the last decade.
Next thing you know, we’ll hear Dr. Evil's Evil Henchmen have kidnapped the Google boys and are holding them for a ransom of...
I Am Not Making This Up
© 2005 Jeff Matthews
The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.
Posted by Jeff Matthews at 8:52 AM