Debates over work from home v hybrid v HQ are becoming increasingly polarized (duh). It seems either one gets it, or not, with little room to disagree. There's a reason for this and it is rooted in how disruptive forces take hold. A long 🧵
2/ Change in work is part of broader change which is _disruption_ of how companies operate. The structure and design of Corps are rooted in *everything* that happened after WWII from an influx of labor, growth in housing, rise of computing, and even the military.
3/ Whole essays can be written about any one of those. For example, it should be no surprise that those schooled in WWII (literally) and came to run corporations would run those corporations like the military (see smile.amazon.com/Whiz-Kids-Foun…)
With so much talk about “breaking up” companies, it is interesting to take a different perspective—what is it like to be on the receiving end of a court order to break up the company you work for? This week in June 2000, in US v. Microsoft the breakup was ordered. 1/4
2/ Microsoft was ordered to break up into two companies, Applications and Operating Systems. As with many remedy orders, there were a lot of questions (like what is an operating system or an application??). But mostly what problem was this solving?
3/ The separation of Windows and Office wasn’t at the heart of the complaint, which came about because of the pricing/licensing of Windows and what features go in Windows. So many people thought Office came with Windows and benefitted from some secret information.
2/ The spring/summer of 1994 was a weird time at Microsoft. Business was going gangbusters. It appeared as though we would make a "remarkable" pivot to the internet (though the story would not be told for 2 years). BUT strategically and culturally there was a lot of confusion.
3/ We were selling tons of Windows 3.x but all attention was on the delayed release of Chicago (Win95). We were selling tons of Office 4.x but Office had "dribbled out" one new product at a time. Lotus even made fun of us in an ad.
Twitter launches its first subscription service // Whenever a company pivots to subscription, we can assume teams spent inordinate amount of decks/whiteboards drafting “subscriber only” features. It is easy to second guess all this or … 1/ cnbc.com/2021/06/03/twi…
2/ quickly arrive at come your own favorite subscription offering. There’s always a chance company missed/s an idea, but given the consternation, it is unlikely. What’s missing is a longer term context for the offer (goals, features) v. immediate goal of pivot/transition.
3/ Along with features, the team will endlessly debate price points, number of offerings, and upsell strategies. If you use the 4 P’s framework, this pivot is literally the stuff dreams (and stress) are made of. It takes time to play out. // END
“My Performance Review (and An Expense Report)”— How do you figure out if you’re doing a good job in a staff role like the one I had when I was billg’s technical assistant. It is more difficult than it might seem. New post in “Hardcore Software” 1/ …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/030-my-perfo…
2/ Tempting to think you sit down with the CEO, talk through specific goals, then measure progress during 1:1s and so on.
But all of that is very high overhead for a CEO, especially one not pre-disposed to management :-)
As a staff person you want to amplify performance…
3/ But if doing so takes a lot of time and effort from the principle it might be costly. So you have to adapt your work style to their style and just “deal with it”.
That’s what I did. So we met almost never even though we shared a wall—we used email/ writing.
In Peter Drucker's 1954 classic "The Practice of Management" he described the role of the CEO as being a combination of the right level of outside, inside, and action focus arrived at through management by objectives. 1/
In a later work this is refined (American CEO series in WSJ) he described the importance of an outside role and then a bridge to inside. 2/ wsj.com/articles/SB110…
This is a great framework but the problem is finding all of these in one person can be daunting or impossible resulting in disappointment/failure.
Also holds not just for CEO but for any sort of divisional or business leadership role (eg in charge of a whole biz). 3/
The list of things people repeat as if they are evil or some secret plan continues to surprise me: “ads”, private label, loss leaders, loyalty cards/benefits, price incentives…Amazon generational innovation is in distribution and efficiency, like every mass market retailer ever.
2/ Shared the behind the scenes details of a cover story in July '96 BusinessWeek magazine giving a timeline of events leading to Microsoft's big bet on open internet technologies (aka "embrace and extend"). Story opened with this quote from the employee newsletter, _MicroNews_.
3/ I got a note from former Microsoftie Dean Ballard, former developer on the TrueType team (and among other things named Trebuchet typeface). Turns out DeanBal authored "Battle Hymn" which he documents here including a fun series of MicroNews letters. deanbal.net/hymn/hymn.htm
Narratives are a powerful concept that make difficult concepts easy (and even fun, interesting) for us to understand. BUT they also come with some rish—risk from abstracting out important details and context that might diverge from facts. This happens quite a bit… 1/
2/ I want to talk about this in context of business because there's a lot going on where compelling narratives are taking hold, which sound like big problems or a lesson from business history but might hold us back collectively from finding solutions or understnading challenges.
3/ This is not a new problem and to be clear it isn't one to ascribe to malice. In fact it is most always a simple form of confirmation bias or "that just makes sense" combined with a bit of "if that's true it fits super well with a broader narrative." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmat…
What did a corporate network look like in 1994? Here are some slides I made in the summer of 1994 for the interns. MS had 35,000 PCs sending 12.2 million email messages a month. Also, MS had 23 mini computers and a mainframe with 3.2 terabytes of disk space. 1/
2/ Why is this so interesting? Because companies around the world were building out networks like this right when the Internet arrived. The Internet upended how to think about connectivity. A BigCo connected to the internet versus making its own Intranet.
3/ Many of us were incredibly excited by the opportunity the Internet brought us. Sitting in a hallway outside a the TCP/IP Dev Manager's office was Microsoft's FTP server. No demand gen. Spontaneous usage!
Transforming from app/service to platform often (not always) involves adding extensibility (API) for other companies or customers to use. Using extensibility aside from solving a missing capability, is sticky and good for biz. Some patterns, traps, pitfalls & lessons 1/
2/ Most SaaS can be thought of as "mostly about data", "mostly about experience", or "mostly about an API", especially early. Over time most apps will naturally expand to be more of what it isn't, normal. To speed expansion and feature coverage, extensibility to the rescue.
3/ An app that is mostly about storing data will often expand to both ingest more data but to also display/report/synthesize data. Early on exposing an API that allows more data to be ingested or allows other tools to serve as front ends is natural.
Why were word processors $500+ in 1980s (~$1300 2021)? Aside from "seemed right" the packaging and contents were expensive. Here's a leading WP MultiMate. It came with several books, reference cards, keyboard templates, backup disks... The box is a fancy cloth storage box. 1/
2/ Companies were not just teaching their product but had to explain how a PC worked. The "Beginner's Guide" literally explained how a PC worked? Why, because often people were buying a PC to run one software product. How do floppies work?
3/ Products were enormously complex to use. It often took weeks to become kind of proficient. Mostly because usage meant learning essentially arbitrary keyboard "chords". MultiMate was famous for *stickers* you'd put on your keys (talk about commitment). (tough to find these!)
"Working Backwards" is a very good book for product leaders to read. It builds on 6 core Amazon principles AND tells the story of 4 key amazon projects. Written by @cbryar (12+) and @BillCarr89 (15+ yrs) of Amazon. 1/ smile.amazon.com/Working-Backwa…
2/ My normal caveat is that I tend to like books that tell the story and tools a company used but don't try too hard to tell you that you should do what they did or "use these tools". I'm hardcore about this because I think context, domain, and people make all the difference.
3/ I've seen far too often business leaders adopt the low-friction/readily adoptable part of such expressed lessons, and then get frustrated things don't work. I've even seen this happen when one part of Microsoft tried to lift parts of what another team did.
2/ From the earliest days the company was uniquely focused on a breadth product line, and only on software. Those were both unique compared to single-product companies or to the vertically integrated likes of IBM captured by this classic video (c. 1981).
3/ As technical assistant I was there to help with product reviews and serve as a form of connective tissue or glue between product groups executing on Bill's vision. In 1993 Microsoft just launched the 'year of Office' and had started the pivot from apps to the suite.
2/ Mike Maples Sr (then head of all World Wide Products) explained the origin of each culture using a folksy story about "two bountiful" gardens at Microsoft. Apps was 58% of revenue but Systems was top of the food chain, so to speak.
3/ Many are familiar with this image of different tech company org charts. It always drove me bonkers because I felt it did little to understand how or why companies are structured like they are and presumes it is just lunacy. Yes, I get it was to be funny.
Climate of 'fear' prevents experts fro questioning the handling of the pandemic. express.co.uk/news/uk/141589… // this is super interesting and not at all obvious for a true pandemic in a democracy. 1/
2/ WHO has studied pandemics and worked tirelessly for decades in many countries. They serve in an advisory capacity with varying degrees of involvement depending on country. Lots of history going way back, smallpox, HIV, flu, ebola, SARS, etc.
016. Filling the Void Left by IBM …rdcoresoftware.learningbyshipping.com/p/016-filling-… // Over 5000 have signed up. Please join in, it is great fun. Many stories--history & strategy. Microsoft is transitioning to enterprise products and building "Chicago", oh and the internet.
Also, my first exec offsite.
2/ The offsite was the first time I was at a meeting with a bunch of executives from across the company. There were 9 execs out of the 25 or so worldwide at the company at the time. Attending scored us a wonderful acrylic block. Microsoft loved acrylic blocks.
3/3 Our breakout had to come up with an answer to "Filling the Void Left by the Demise of IBM" which was days away from insolvency and will appoint a new CEO the following week. This was the earliest days of Microsoft's transition to selling enterprise as discussed. Weird slide🤣
2/ Check out the post for the adventure (including me humiliating myself). The most interesting thing though was how the previous technical assistant warned me about the job.
Also, he told me to start looking for my next job right away!
3/ He told me that every group is "screwed up" and that becomes readily apparent as you cycle through meeting after meeting. Projects are late, buggy, missing features, and more. I was intrigued by the idea everything was messed up.