Microsoft is a hugely innovative company, but the culture that has developed there has stunted or even thwarted its innovations, suggests former Microsoft Vice President Dick Brass. The ingredients of this culture are numerous, but it has flourished largely because of the company’s structure preventing the development of “a true system for innovation”.
Not everything that has gone wrong at Microsoft is due to internecine warfare. Part of the problem is a historic preference to develop (highly profitable) software without undertaking (highly risky) hardware. This made economic sense when the company was founded in 1975, but now makes it far more difficult to create tightly integrated, beautifully designed products like an iPhone or TiVo. And, yes, part of the problem has been an understandable caution in the wake of the antitrust settlement. Timing has also been poor — too soon on Web TV, too late on iPods.
Internal competition is common at great companies. It can be wisely encouraged to force ideas to compete. The problem comes when the competition becomes uncontrolled and destructive.
Microsoft has responded officially.