Archive for the ‘Blue Monster’ Category
October 7, 2007
I just got the following comment on gapingvoid:
Since you’re rubbing elbows with the Blue Monster, maybe you could ask him who talked him into slowing computers to a crawl by loading Vista with DRM and those bizarre and tortuous security protocols.
I know two people who have bought new computers lately. One, the president of my company, bought a Vista equipped computer for home use. As a result, our company will hang on to our old computers as long as possible and then consider switching to Linux. True, it’s only one small company, but I imagine this same scene is being played out everywhere.
Another friend bought a Linux machine for multi-media. He raves about the speed he gets from it because of the reduced clutter in the operating system.
Is marketing a conversation? Who the hell was the Blue Monster listening to when he dreamed up Vista?
Though one could easily interpret this as “negative”, I’m starting to really like comments like this one. Why? Because the guy is certainly entitled to opinion, and perhaps just as importantly, I know for a fact people inside Microsoft will see it the comment eventually, and that it will be discussed internally. And then slowly but surely, good things will start to happen.
In other words, I see these type of comments simply as a symptom of something much larger going on, which my friend JP Rangaswami nailed down superbly last March:
People want Microsoft to change. That is the essence of what made the Blue Monster such a hit, it was a way of people outside Microsoft telling people in Microsoft of the intense need for change.
JP then goes on to explain the importance of bloggers in the whole equation:
When a company achieves critical mass in terms of “external” bloggers, there is no longer an inside or an outside. Blogs do not support hierarchies or vertical silos, they tend to be lateral and networked and and all-over-the-place. Blogs are not respecters of walls, whether inside the firm or at the firm’s boundaries.
Not having an inside or an outside. That’s how tomorrow’s customers will figure which of today’s companies to bless.
Amen. Hence the Porous Membrane etc.
From some of the recent talks I’ve had with Microsoft, I’m starting to see more and more people internally beginning to believe a simple truth: That if Microsoft wishes to change the world, then changing themselves is also, most definitely, a big part of the equation.
And yes, that last sentence will also apply to any other company, large or small.
[Addendum:] Recent remark from an older techie friend of mine:
“People who hate Microsoft are either clueless or naive about what running a business was actually like, before they were around.”
[Related:] Interesting post by JP Rangaswami about why Microsoft is buying minority stakes in companies, as opposed to buying them outright, like they used to be in the habit of etc.
October 5, 2007
James Cherkoff, who was in Paris with me earlier this week, has a really good write-up on Microsoft deciding to seriously enter the advertising game.
So what’s the good news you may well be asking?
Well, Microsoft may be about to radically step up their aspirations in the world of advertising, but they have decided to play nice. They think that they their best chance of slicing off a large piece of the advertising pie — and preventing the whole market being run by Google — is to co-operate with the advertising industry not try and vaporise it. Ballmer and co have decided they need the people who understand the more subjective part of the marketing equation, otherwise known as branding, which even the most powerful algorithms can’t get their processors around. Yet.
[Just added this post to the Blue Monster series.]
October 4, 2007
A Microsoft friend just sent me this photo. Turns out the Blue Monster got a full five minutes of screen time in Paris the other day- at one of the few sessions that I missed. Heh.
[The chap presenting is the EMEA Vice President for MSN & Windows Live. EMEA = Europe, Middle East & Africa.]
September 30, 2007
[Me and Microsoft’s Steve Clayton enjoying the first ever opened bottle of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve]
If anybody wants to get their hands on a bottle or two of Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve, this is how the lay of the land is looking:
1. You have to be a member of the “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook page.
2. You have to live in the UK and the E.U. [Europe]. America will take a wee bit longer while we sort out the importer. We’re hoping to have the first bottles ready to be shipped out by mid-October.
3. You have to be of legal drinking age, obviously.
4. They’ll be available only by the half-case [6 bottles], not individually.
5. Sadly, Stormhoek is just a small wine company, and we can’t afford to give them away. We will sell them at £45 per half-case [£7.50 a bottle]. Free shipping is included in the UK, but not Europe.
6. Though certain people inside Microsoft may like what we’re doing, this is not a Microsoft gig. This is a Stormhoek gig.
7. Yes, red wine will also be available eventually. Working on it.
8. If you fancy a half-case, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
9. And also, a big, huge, massive thanks you to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to making this happen. Rock on.
September 28, 2007
From Johnnie Moore [one of my favorite bloggers, by the way]:
And (doh) that’s what Hugh’s Blue Monster schtick is about, right? As I get it, the Blue Monster as represents all the energy that keeps people at Microsoft despite its frustrations — and the idea that it needs to be unleashed.
Yep. That pretty much sums it up. Thanks for that, Johnnie.
Taking a Blue Monster-type tack may be the wrong move, of course [I’m a cartoonist, not a soothsayer]. But besides rearguard actions defending their core cash cows, what other option do they have? What other option does any large company have, with a mature brand and a vast army of shareholders? Serious question.
September 26, 2007
In my recent “Thoughts on Microsoft” post, I wrote the following:
3. So what happens if the Simon Phipps’s of the world are right? So what happens if the future of software is indeed Open Source? How will Microsoft keep its shareholders happy? What if this recent article is right, and the unavoidable future is free software, and paid software is an equally unavoidable thing of the past? What then? Who has the answers? Do the answers actually exist yet?
[N.B. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps this summer at a dinner party, and I found him delightful company. Though his job is working with Open Source at Sun Microsystems, he also had a lot of nice things to say about Microsoft. A true gentleman.]
I’m happy to report that Simon left the following comment on gapingvoid:
Thank-you for the kind words, Hugh. I’ve a long record of association, observation and then competition with Microsoft, and it’s my conviction that they need to rapidly transition to a position of peace with the concept and community of open source since it is reaching its “tipping point” because of the emerging dominance of the non-US market for them.
I’ve spent three years trying to make Sun behave in ways that make the community-of-communities trust Sun; it seems to me this has not yet become a priority for Microsoft.
Also, unlike Alec, I wouldn’t use the word “buddies” of Sun and Microsoft yet. I’d rather say they have moved to a position of communicating via market-standard co-opetition rather than via the courts.
[UPDATE:] My old high-school friend, SAP consultant Hamish Newlands leaves a thoughtful comment below:
Well, the real issue is exactly the one that the blue monster addresses. “Change the world or go home.“
Now, the two really big cash cows in MS are Windows and Office. The rest is big money, but not in this context, the margins and revenue mainly come from those two areas.
Only, problem is that Office has been feature complete from many people’s perspective since version 2000, and those who require the high end functions in later versions are really not that huge of a market. (Assertion, not fact, but it feels right to me, and I am SAP ERP consultant, so I think I have some feel for what corporations are doing in this area.) So, as software effectively does not wear out, you will keep using the old versions, certainly I do at home.
For Windows the situation is more complex, because the PC comes with the operating system installed, and you do not generally change it. But interesting enough, the latest version, Vista, has been a late, bloated and unpopular failure, to the extent that PC vendors are seeking to allow downgrades to XP, which is unprecedented. Add to that the recent monopoly judgements in Europe, and some of the suggested remedies, and you have some serious thinking to do about how to manage the breakdown of the network effect that keeps it all together.
Think of three things.
Open document formats are now being approved by ISO, allowing interoperability of document formats at last.
IBM is (re) entering the Office Suite market, with a version of Open Office. That says that they think it is a legitimate choice, and the suits will sit up and ask, “why am I paying hundreds of dollars if free is apparently good enough?“
Finally, if the EU continues on its way, MS will have God’s own job to extend the footprint to do more interesting things. Design meetings with an IP lawyer at the table, anyone?
But changing the world has already been done in these areas, arguably, what is happening now is just turd polishing. (Someone once said of six sigma and total quality, “I don’t care how lovingly you polish it, a turd is still a turd.)
Truly disruptive innovation does change the world, but I am not sure where MS is trying that these days. That’s not to say that the company is not clever, motivated, hard-working or whatever, but the goals have not changed significantly for some time.
[UPDATE:] Hamish had a few afterthoughts himself, and published them on his blog: “SAP has Decided to Stop Polishing the Turd”:
And that was the comment that got me thinking: I have been looking at Business byDesign in SAP, and have expressed some reservations about the fact that it is going to have to:
* Requires a totally (or at least substantially) different sales model for the SME market
* Requires different implementation and support approaches
* Potentially cannabalises and changes the business model of SAP.
At first I thought “neh, bad”. Then I read Hugh’s post, and thought, “Aha. Change the World or Go Home.” I grok the intent now, SAP is stable, big, and we could profitably polish the turd for ever. Or we could disrupt the whole market, change it, and win that game instead, even if it is different from the one we have now. Oracle has already stated it is not going to try it, effectively, so we have new things to do, and new horizons to conquer, even if we do have to learn new tricks.
Took me a while, but I am on board now. Business ByDesign. Let’s go.
Yeah, I’m sure there’s a few people inside Microsoft who can really relate to Hamish’s last point vis-a-vis their own stuff etc.
[UPDATE:] Software analayst, James Governor makes a good point in the comments, as well:
Never mind polishing a turd. Success comes when you allow your product babies to become children, and then young adults that eat their parents. R/3 ate R/2. SAP won. The rest is history.
Software companies are shackled by success.
[Cartoon inspired by Adriana, of course.]
September 21, 2007
[A view from the London Microsoft offices, taken earlier today. Westminster Cathedral in the background, McDonald’s in the foreground. N.B. I first ate at this McDonald’s when I was twelve years old, with my dad and my sister, the first time I ever visited London. We stayed in a hotel just up the street, so every time I’m in this neighborhood the memories come flooding back to me, for this is the first neighborhood in the city I became familiar with. Somehow visiting Microsoft today seemed to make everything come around full circle, from that Big Mac & Fries all those years ago.]
I was visiting some folk at Microsoft UK today, talking about all things to do with Blue Monsters and social objects. I even brought along a bottle of Blue Monster wine. Though I can’t talk about what the meeting was about, here are some general thoughts I came away with, in no particular order:
1. “Agents of Calcification”. This is a rather snarky term I recently coined to describe the folks in a big company– any big company, not necessarily Microsoft– whose role isn’t to invent, make, or sell stuff, but to maintain and enhance the apparatus of bureaucracy, even at the expense of the business itself. Though these agents can serve a legitimate organizational purpose, when any company has too many of these people, you sadly end up with this cartoon [i.e. a “Big Lump o’ Death”]. The bigger the company gets, the more energy anybody trying to get anything interesting done will have to spend, trying to navigate around these folk. These folk are why I never take on salaried positions at big companies– I’ve never been very good at handling them. Despite what Frederick Winslow Taylor may have said, people are not machines. Form NEVER follows function.
2. The Blue Monster came from a simple observation I made early on in my career as a Microsoft watcher: That most people I’ve met who work there could be making more money elsewhere, and taking a lot less grief from the general public and the media. So what motivates them? The answer to this, in spite of all the baggage that comes with it, is what makes the company so interesting for me.
3. So what happens if the Simon Phipps’s of the world are right? So what happens if the future of software is indeed Open Source? How will Microsoft keep its shareholders happy? What if this recent article is right, and the unavoidable future is free software, and paid software is an equally unavoidable thing of the past? What then? Who has the answers? Do the answers actually exist yet? [N.B. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Simon Phipps this summer at a dinner party, and I found him delightful company. Though his job is working with Open Source at Sun Microsystems, he also had a lot of nice things to say about Microsoft. A true gentleman.]
4. Are people [both inside and outside the company] ready to start seeing Microsoft not primarily as a software company, but as a media company? And if Microsoft’s business model turns away from paid software, towards advertising and free software, who will be the winners? Who will be the losers?
5. Calling Microsoft “Evil” is too easy. An adjective used by the incurious and intellectually lazy.
6. I find it re-assuring that most Microsofties I meet don’t seem too phased by the fact that I use a MacBook, not a PC. As Bill Gates said recently, “We like Apple, they buy a lot of software from us.“
7. A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with somebody very high up the global Digital Advertising foodchain. He was telling me about how once he was pitching for a ten million dollar account with a large international client. The client basically said, “I love the idea. Let’s do it. But… can you scale it to a hundred million dollar spend?” My friend sadly had to confess that his idea did not scale that large. My takeaway: Advertising clients are lining up to give talented folk their money. The only problem is, this brave new world is still in its infancy, much the same way TV advertising was in its infancy fifty years ago. Unlike traditional advertising media, demand for services exceeds supply. There lies the opportunity, but even the smartest minds in the business are still having a hard time figuring it out.
8. Though Google may be a fierce competitor of my friends in Redmond, in many ways what they’re doing actually makes Microsoft’s job a whole lot easier. Google broke a lot of ice when it came to creating a viable mass market for advertisers [understatement]. Thanks to Google, people ARE willing to spend money on online advertising in a way they simply weren’t before AdSense came along. If Microsoft [or any other company] can add something to the party, with ever more increasingly sophisticated offerings, they stand to gain on a massive scale. The clients are there, ready and willing to spend the big money. But now the onus is on Microsoft et al to provide a good enough reason.
9. As wonderful and interesting as “Web 2.0″ has been to both me and a lot of my friends, the fact is, again, it’s still early days. Again, even the smartest people I know in this space have little idea about what’s going to happen next. Again, like TV advertising in the 1950s, we’re basically making it up as we go along. But that’s what makes it so exciting.
10. I still happily stand by what I said about Microsoft, late last year:
For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people– the media, the competition and their detractors, especially– to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.
We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better– what they do, why they do it, and why it matters– if they’re to remain happy and prosperous long-term.
Let me put it another way: The future of Microsoft, and how Microsoft talks to people in the future, are one and the same. Yes, Virginia, the future of Microsoft is “Conversation.”
September 18, 2007
Jyri Engestrom, the anthropologist behind the “Social Object” theory, writes about the Blue Monster. Rock on.
Since its inception by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod, the cartoon has been adopted by microsofties as a symbol of the company’s and its people’s aspiration to innovate. I’ve heard Microsoft employees refer to it as the company’s unofficial mascot.
[Bonus Link: Adriana has a really good post on Stormhoek Blue Monster. Very thoughtful, as usual, coming from her.]
My understanding is, some pockets at Microsoft COMPLETELY get the Blue Monster, and others don’t. I suppose that’s to be expected with a company of that size.
That being said, from what I can glean from my limited, outsider perspective, there seems to be a large constituency within the company which strongly believes that Microsoft’s entire future rests on how well it talks to people outside the company. I happen to concur. “Porous Membrane”, Baby!
September 17, 2007
[Yon standard pack shot. Indeed.]
I mentioned previously that I would be announcing my “Next Big Project” sometime today, the 17th of September.The Financial Times beat me to it.. “Social Object”, Baby:
Microsoft launches a tipple for techies
Tonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.
The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.
Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.
But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.
Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.
Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.”
[Print Version: Page 14 of the main section. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.
The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.
“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”
“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”
Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.
Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.
“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”
Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”
[A bottle of Blue Monster Reserve sitting on my desk. Click on image to enlarge etc.]
Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”
For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”
If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.
[Blue Monster backstory here.] [Blue Monster blog archive here.]
The wine is not a commercially available product, just a wee “social object” for geek dinners and people inside the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and I are still working on the final details of how we’re going to get the wine to people who want it, but for now, we’re just limiting its availability to  people who belong to the “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group, and  geek dinners we’re attending and/or sponsoring.
Personally, I like this idea because it directly connects to a lot of different things I’m interested in. “Social Objects”, Microsoft, cartoons, Stormhoek, Marketing 2.0, corporate-reinvention, geek dinners etc etc.
Hopefully, other people will like it, too. Watch this space etc.
A special thanks to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to this project. Rock on.
[P.S. If anyone has any further questions, I can be reached by e-mail.]
August 29, 2007
This cartoon is now in Steve Clayton’s collection. All to do with a conversation about Microsoft [Steve’s employer] that we were having a few weeks ago.
Basically, with software companies, you have a balance of two axes: 1. How much of your offering is software vs. How much of your offering is services 2. How much of your offering resides in “the cloud”, vs. How much of your offering resides on the desktop/handheld/personal object etc.
The ideal answer, of course, is that there’s no right answer. In theory one should be able to change at moment’s notice, and the software company should be able to accommodate said change at equally moment’s notice. As Steve says,
Microsoft wants to be right there in the middle. The user gets to pick where they wanna be. I wonder if I can get Ray Ozzie to use this
[This cartoon has been added to the Blue Monster cartoon series etc.]
August 10, 2007
Thanks to everyone for coming to the Blue Monster Coffee Morning. Can’t wait till the next one. [There’s a wee Facebook video of it here.]
[Meanwhile:] “Friends Of The Blue Monster” now has 589 members. Wow.
August 3, 2007
[Me holding up a Blue Monster bizcard during my keynote etc. Photo by Erik.]
It’s been quite a day. Here’s my sponsor’s summary of the event. And here’s Lockhart Steele piping in.
I’m exhausted. Off to Miami tomorrow. See you soon…
[UPDATE:] During the keynote I made a big mention about “Social Objects”, an idea I was turned onto by the anthropologist, Jyri Engestrom. Here’s a video and a slideshow presentation he gave on the subject, last June in London.
[UPDATE:] Thanks to Andy Roberts for also turning me on to Soviet “Activity Theory”. Phew. Heady stuff. But interesting.
July 24, 2007
[The Blue Monster makes it down to Australia. Backstory here.]
From Steve Clayton:
I also had a photo opportunity with Steve Ballmer, Kevin Turner and Jean Philippe Courtois and took the opportunity to hand Steve my Blue Monster business card. His words — “I love it — thanks”. I didn’t quite have the gumption to give it to Bill
July 9, 2007
MSFT’s Steve Clayton on the Blue Monster: “This is about Microsoft on our terms — open to all and owned by the world. Rock on.“
[Meanwhile:] The groovy cats over at MSFT’s On10 have pinged the Blue Monster story.
Bearing the tagline, “Microsoft: Change the world or go home,” the Blue Monster represents the vision and the passion of the company’s employees: so passionate about what they do, if they can’t make the world a better place, they should go home. Maybe the monster is just what Microsoft needs to draw more attention to the fact that, despite the lawyers and stockholders, they, too, have passionate employees who feel like they are changing the world in a positive way.
The Blue Monster was referred to as “Microsoft’s unofficial mascot.” That made my day.
[UPDATE:] The Blue Monster finally makes it onto Techmeme. Thanks, Sarah! Very cool.
July 5, 2007
The “Friends of Blue Monster” are having their first coffee morning in London, on August 3rd. See here for details. Hope to see you then!
[UPDATE:] 30 people confirmed so far, with another 34 “Maybes”. Rock on.
July 3, 2007
The “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook page now has 225 members, at time of writing.
Wow. That seems like a lot. Agree? Disagree?
July 1, 2007
Heh. Robert Scoble has a Blue Monster sticker on his laptop. This pic was taken while he was waiting in line to get his new iPhone, so I’m told.
The sticker was given to him by Steve Clayton. Shel Israel got one, too. Steve tells me they were quite a hot commodity when he got them made, and his supply ran out very soon.
Robert’s never mentioned The Blue Monster on his blog, as far as I’m aware. Not in any great detail, at least. Do I find that surprising? Not really. I can totally see how he’d much rather write more about his new job at PodTech, rather than about his old job at Microsoft. But I was delighted to see him joining the Facebook “Friends of Blue Monster” group.
I also notice the two Jaiku stickers. Very cool. “Social Object, Baby!”
[The 1949 Olivetti MP1 typewriter]
Of all the hundreds of lectures I attended in college many years ago, one stands out more than any other, one I remember more than any other.
It was a lecture on Industrial Design. More specifically, it was a lecture on the 1949 Olivetti MP1 typewriter.
Basically, what makes the Olivetti typewriter so iconic in the history of design are those smooth, sexy, curvy lines. What the lecturer referred to as “The Humanizing of the Machine”.
What makes it interesting is that these sexy, curvy lines are, unlike say, Art Deco, completely functional, not decorative. Forms follows function, but in a feminine, non-masculine way.
Before Olivetti, nobody thought of industrial design in “feminine” terms. Now they do. Just look at Apple and the work of Jonathan Ive.
What got me thinking about this? Working with Microsoft got me thinking about this. I believe that if Microsoft wants to re-invent itself, if it wants to keep evolving, growing and prospering long-term, I keep thinking to myself, what Olivetti did to the typewriter, Microsoft has to do to itself.
Exactly. “The Humanizing of the Machine”. Welcome to The Blue Monster.
June 29, 2007
The Blue Monster gets a mention on this rather amusing, quirky ad for Yahoo Answers. The virus spreads etc.
[Link:] Yahoo Answers’ “Share What You Love” homepage. It appears the ad campaign was created by this French ad agency. Rock on.
June 28, 2007
The Blue Monster has made it to Australia. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton explains.
[Also:] There’s now a “Friends of The Blue Monster” Facebook page. 57 members so far. The virus spreads etc [UPDATE: Up to 110 members inside 24 hours!]
[UPDATE: ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley, required reading for anyone who seriously follows Microsoft, is on the Friends list. Wow.].
June 4, 2007
My “Blue Monster” business cards arrived in the mail today. Very cool. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to them.
[You can get your own set here.]
[Bonus Link:] Further proof of Microsoft’s “increasing irrelevance”. Rock on.
May 28, 2007
[Cartoon inspired by Paul Allen’s recent post. Added to the Blue Monster Series etc.]
May 26, 2007
[Video Short:] Edelman’s David Brain interviews Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and myself about The Blue Monster. One of the best interviews we’ve had about it for a while.
[Bonus Link:] Mike Jones on The Blue Monster.
My interpretation of the blue monster runs along some thoughts that I’ve had for years about the concept of “Cow paths”. I can’t remember the source of this story but I think it was told by one of the Gillmor Gang on their weekly podcast. The story goes that one university in the USA decided after building its new campus to not lay any paths around the site, between buildings. Instead they let the students walk whichever way was quickest for them. They then returned a year later, looked around and saw the “cow paths” (worn tracks) and laid paths on those. Now the way I think this fits in with the blue monster is that for a long time now people have created pathways at Microsoft and its time for the next generation to make their own. Abandoning the paved stones for the rough grass.
May 25, 2007
Heh. My buddy, Tara Hunt has her reservations about the Blue Monster.
Whether or not they are actually ‘changing the world or going home’ is up for deep debate and discussion, but when they showed up at the Web 2.0 Expo sporting this cartoon all over t-shirts and signage, I was taken aback. The PR people were standing at the door to the MS session, happily handing out their (men’s XL & XXL) tshirts to everyone coming into the session. A big smile, saying, “See? We’re hip. We’re listening,” across their face.
Fair enough. The interesting thing to me is, Tara seems to perceive the Blue Monster as a message originating from inside Microsoft, directed to the outside world. Wrong. It’s a message that originated OUTSIDE Microsoft, directed internally. The fact that Microsoft is sending it back externally shows there’s a two-way conversation starting. Which was the entire point of the exercise, after all.
I am reminded of a big A-HA! moment I had a few years ago when I first realized that the REAL story about Robert Scoble’s blog [when he was still working at Microsoft] was not about how it was changing external perceptions about Microsoft [“Oh, what a lovely blog. I think I’ll stop hating Microsoft from now on.”], but how it was stirring things up inside the company.
Yes, I tend to view the Blue Monster in much the same way.
I see the Blue Monster less of a message, and more of a social object that starts a conversation. That’s what keeps it interesting. As soon as the Microsoft brand police try to take it over and turn it into a straight external marketing message, it’s over. Though yeah, Tara’s post was a good warning of that scenario, I think by focusing just on the externals, and not really giving ANY thought to the internal dimension, she kind of missed the most important point.
And to take the Scoble analogy one step further. Well, as revolutionary as Scoble’s blog seemed at the time he was at Microsoft, as wonderful as it was, he ultimately didn’t change Microsoft from top to bottom, either. But that is not to say his blog was neither useful or valuable. It certainly was both to me.
[UPDATE:] Nice observation from JP Rangaswami:
If I’ve interpreted [Tara] correctly, she also alludes to another, equally important point: People want Microsoft to change. That is the essence of what made the Blue Monster such a hit, it was a way of people outside Microsoft telling people in Microsoft of the intense need for change, a point that Hugh makes eloquently.
May 17, 2007
What working with Microsoft has taught me so far:
1. Saying “All software should be free” sounds as silly as saying “All writing should be free”.
2. Saying “All software should be paid for” sounds as silly as saying “All writing should be paid for”.
It depends who’s doing the making. It depends who’s doing the using. Everything is contextual. About half the work I do is free. The other half is paid for. Both feed the other. Contextually.
Conclusion: The Free vs. Proprietary software debate I’ve been following recently is a red herring. At least, it is when you’re thinking about it in terms of either/or absolutes.
So I’m delighted to have found somebody a million times more informed than me, Microsoft’s Bill Hilf talking about this stuff as well.
[UPDATE:] Ha! My old high school buddy, Hamish Newlands, who now works for SAP, pipes in about the Blue Monster:
Continuing the jolly religious theme, we have Hugh, my long time friend at GapingVoid getting into the big Microsoft Beast. Blue Monster indeed, and I am happy for Hugh that he may have another major gig coming up. So I have some words of advice, being used to this kind of organisation, in my life with SAP.
“Run Away, Run Away before they eat you! Behind you! Run faster!”
[UPDATE:] Seth Godin pipes in as well:
Some critics think [Hugh is] selling out. I don’t. I think he’s having a huge impact on an organization – from the outside – at the same time that he demonstrates how just about any large organization can rethink its role in the world. And he’s doing it in front of all of us, without a net.
May 16, 2007
[One of the cartoons I did for Seth Godin’s new book, “The Dip”.]
Zakamundo left the following comment here:
Hugh, you say “there are some seriously smart, good people working [at Microsoft] who yes, can still change the world for the better”.
You may well be right. But the question that the recent court action poses, and the question that the comments on this thread suggests, and the question that even you appear defensive on, is this:
Can these people change Microsoft for the better?
Now it might be that Microsoft is great, and people don’t realise it — then ‘all’ MS needs is a good and consistent marketing exercise. But it is a big corporation, and its intended audience (um, almost everyone?) will have perceptions with significant inertia. And thats assuming MSFT can stay on-message all the time — can they aspire to match the impact and values of Apple’s marketing for instance?
Or it might be that Microsoft as a corporation is possessed by a corporate culture that generates external behavior that is jealous of others, patronising to its clients and bullying to those smaller. In which case the external audience’s perceptions are rooted in reality, and the Blue Monster crowd have a problem on their hands.
I spent 15 years working in investment banking (derivatives trading) — full of hugely intelligent, focussed people. Some were great, and really did want to effect positive change from within. What I found fascinating, and somewhat depressing, was the longevity and all-pervasiveness of the corporate culture — different at each of the 3 institutions I worked for, but persistent at each one.
One example I can give : I too tried to change organisations from within, and was a major sponsor of the ‘new’ communication tools of wikis, chat and blogs at the most recent bank that employed me. Huge amounts of my management time and effort went into this, and yet each time I took my foot off the gas, the use of these tools would evaporate. There was a rather obvious lack of overt senior management support for the use and distribution of these tools, and that company is still stuck in the email age.
The way corporate life works is that change needs to come from the top down, as well as the bottom up. Feverish activity in the middle is at risk of being wasted. I think it is a pleasant diversion to dream of a better, fairer worlds, with corporate charters drawn up as a response to Cluetrain manifestoes, but my experience and observation is that it’s just not how it works. Am more than happy to be proved or persuaded otherwise.
Sorry for the rant,
Here’s my reply:
No worries about the rant. That’s what the blogosphere is for
I disagree with you, though, at least partially. I think small changes can lead to big changes. Though exactly how is not always immediately obvious from the onset [And we have thousands of years of mythology– everything from Homer, to Jesus, to King Arthur, to Star Wars– telling us the exact same thing].
What I like about the Blue Monster [and what I’ve liked from the very beginning] is that nobody owns the conversation– Not me, not MSFT, not the anti-MSFT crowd, not the media. It has a life of its own– which is what keeps it interesting…
[This entry has been added to the Blue Monster series.]
May 15, 2007
[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
This cartoon came to me at about 4am this morning… I’m sure Kathy Sierra has said the same thing before, better than me etc…
[UPDATE:] From Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun:
All of which is to say — no amount of fear can stop the rise of free media, or free software (they are the same, after all). The community is vastly more innovative and powerful than a single company. And you will never turn back the clock on elementary school students and developing economies and aid agencies and fledgling universities — or the Fortune 500 — that have found value in the wisdom of the open source community. Open standards and open source software are literally changing the face of the planet — creating opportunity wherever the network can reach.
Free Ones. Free Zeros. It’s all good etc.
[Note To Self:] My detractors think I’m pimping Microsoft. They are wrong. I’m pimping The Hughtrain. Heh.
May 14, 2007
[Click on image to enlarge/download print etc. Licensing terms here.]
I suppose the wonderful time I’ve had with some folk at Microsoft recently, versus the recent news that they’re going to sic the lawyers on the Open Source crowd for patent infringement is kinda giving me conflicting emotions.
On one side of the Redmond coin, we’ve got the Blue Monster crowd. On the other, we have the lawyer crowd, at least as far as the bloggers are concerned, pulling a seriously fat rabbit out of the hat.
I don’t know enough about the case to legally opine one way or the other. Whatever. People will use the news to re-affirm what they already believe. I’m more interested in the Blue Monster crowd, and what happens to them. I’m more interested in the long-term.
And to see the long-term, first you have to ask the following question: Who owns the soul of Microsoft? The people with the Blue Monster cartoon on their screensavers? Bill, Steve, Ray and the other guys living in the big houses? The lawyers? The shareholders? I know which answer I prefer, but ultimately, they have to answer it for themselves. And do it well.
For me personally, if the Blue Monster has one purpose, if I have one reason for working with Microsoft, it’s to remind people that yes, Microsoft has a soul, even if they’ve never been particularly good at letting people see it. And yes, for all the baggage they have acquired over the years, there are some seriously smart, good people working there who yes, can still change the world for the better.
And the sooner they get better at telling people this, the happier I will be.
May 9, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
[Bonus link– William Hurley:] “Seven Reasons Why Microsoft Loves Open Source.“
[UPDATE– From JP Rangaswami:]
I agree vehemently with one thing William says. In reason 6, he makes the point
Microsoft doesn’t fear open source; it fears what the competition can do with it.
This is true for all companies, and for all Because Effect infrastructure. By itself not to be feared (the With); yet feared for what your competitors can do with with (the Because Of).
The moral of the story is: As infrastructure moves from the “With” state to the “Because Of” state, make sure you move with it. Because if you don’t and your competitors do, you’re on the road to Toast.
[UPDATE– Jeff Atwood:]
As a software developer, you’re doing yourself a disservice by pledging allegiance to anything other than yourself and your craft– whether it’s Microsoft or the principle of free software. Stop with the us vs. them mentality. Let go of the partisanship. We’re all in this thing together.
May 6, 2007
I’m in Manhattan, stopping over in New York on my way back home from Seattle. Tonight I’m having dinner with my old friend, Mark Mann.
On Friday I spent the entire day at Microsoft, which was really amazing. All these insanely smart people everywhere. Wow.
The day had many highlights, but I think my favorite would have to be meeting Steve Ball. We had a really great conversation mostly about Robert Fripp, Love and Vista [Steve used to play in Robert’s band]. Steve writes about it here. He played some really incredible guitar, and I drew on one of his business cards [see pic above]. It was a really pleasure and honor hanging out with him.
Another guy I really liked was Jason Matusow. He had some seriously interesting things to say about Open Source. Apparently he knows my friend, James Governor as well, who he spoke very highly of. Small world.
Thanks especially to Kris Fuehr, who made the whole day possible. It was great hanging out with you, finally. Also thank you for leaving the following comment in a recent gapingvoid entry:
Thomas, you may be right that GapingVoid is assimilating Microsoft.
I had the great honor of spending the entire day with Hugh yesterday. One of my colleagues at MS said after the meeting as he shook Hugh’s hand: “Thanks Hugh, you really rocked my brain around”. I think that sums it up. Hugh’s probably on a plane to NYC now. What’s fascinating is that Hugh just ‘is’. He doesn’t wear his agenda on his sleeve and, as you point out here, his curiosity and additive approach affords him great respect. He opened my eyes to a bunch of things. The ecosystem, the subtleties, the no zero-sum game, heck even music references.
Speaking of music – We met with Steve Ball which I’m sure Hugh will write about it. (I took video on our camera phones). A conversation with Steve is a sensory cornucpia. Steve is responsible for the way that Vista greets you each day. Poor Steve, a mountain of talent, he’s trying to inch some of it into the millions of desktops and hampered by the need for Vista to be everything to everyone. (no electric guitars…wouldn’t want to offend grandma!) Fascinating conversation between Hugh and Steve. They connected at so many levels conceptually, musically, socially, and there was this “jiffy pop” effect where they suddently were into a zone of thousand ping-pong phrases finishing each other’s sentences, etc..
I have to say that the art Hugh practices requires a certain ‘Master Po’ quality to it. He has to help people realize things on their own by asking questions. You then have the chance to internalize them — own them as your own. Here, I am Grasshopper and while many times I understand what Hugh says, sometimes it takes me a few hours or days to really internalize it, but it eventually happens and Hugh is pretty patient. (I think)
Hugh’s curiosity with Microsoft comes not from anything related to ‘sell-out’ (by any means) It’s his interest in the re-invention. The simple models that Hugh was white-boarding with us yesterday were so deep and meaningful, but so simply expressed. I think this symbiotic relationship is far tipped in Microsoft’s benefit vs. Hugh’s so you should try some different words than ‘sell-out’. Maybe ‘point-out’?
Quick sidebar that made me chuckle (and it gives me a chance to try on some of what I’ve learned). Hugh and I used the hand-manipulatable Virtual Earth glass table). The demo lets you use your hands to zoom/pan/move the 3D map and Hugh asked if this was Google Earth.
Now, shutting off my cheerleading tendencies where I normally would say: “yes! It’s Microsoft’s Virtual Earth which is so cool in the following ways.….“
Rather, I’m going to say: Microsoft does have a earth-to-street-level 2-D & 3-D mapping solution. The team who worked on it were asked to build features that would be more compelling and useful than anything currently available. You can try it an see if they succeeded in doing that local.live.com. Google and Microsoft each have areas of strengths in different cities. Many people are comparing different cities and discussing which they prefer and where. e.g. while Google has a 3d rendition of a stadium in San Francisco, Microsoft has a detailed view of the building in the Vegas strip. Which you pick may depend on which areas you focus on. You can see a side-by-side comparison at http://www.jonasson.org/maps/.
A lot of people are infected with the HughTrain bug. Having him explain it in person has been even more enlightening. I think next time, we’ll just reserve a room for 500+ and broaden the discussion. Next trip Hugh?
HINT: Hugh’s masterplan? Every time the blue monster is exposed to techies through Microsoft or other channels, Stormhoek’s name is embedded directly to its target market. Mwah, ha ha! Happy to oblige, Hugh. It’s brilliant.
And the geek dinner that followed in Pike’s Market afterwards was terrific, as well. Thanks to Eric for pulling that together.
I’ve had a really great trip this time round, I have to say. This whole Blue Monster thing seems to be taking on a life of its own. Steve and I have lots to talk about, when I get back to London.
[UPDATE:] The latest Blue Monster lithograph finally sold for £150 [approx $300 US] on e-Bay. Wow.
April 28, 2007
Is it just me, or would “The Echo Chamber” make a good cartoon for the Microsoft Blue Monster Series?
You know, “MS has got to get outside of the Echo Chamber, outside of Redmond increasingly more often if it wishes to stay relevant long-term” etc etc etc.
I’ve changed the line from the original red to black. I never liked the red, not sure why…
Meanwhile, the other night at the Girl Geek Dinner, Sarah Blow told me that before I arrived at the event, there was some conversation going on at one of the tables about gapingvoid “being assimilated by Microsoft”.
I can see their point, but this is kind of short-term thinking to me. In the past, I’ve been assimilated by many things in the last few years– the cartoons, the suit business, the wine business, the advertising business, the marketing business, whatever takes my fancy at the time. Somehow the blog keeps ticking along, regardless.
My attitude is, as long as I keep drawing new cartoons, things will stay interesting. If I stop, things will peter out. The cartoons are the canary in the coal mine etc.
[Bonus Link:] It was great meeting David Terrar in the flesh, finally. Here’s his take on the Girl Geek Dinner.
April 26, 2007
From Microsoft’s Steve Clayton:
As promised, a second auction for a signed, limited edition Blue Monster lithograph. Let’s see if we can beat the £113 winning bid from last time and remember, all proceeds go to the NSPCC!
The lithograph is A3 i.e. small poster size. Here’s some photos.
[UPDATE:] It’s only Day One, and the litho is already bidding at £117.00 [approx $234.00 US]. Wow.
April 25, 2007
[Another old cartoon I’m adding to the Blue Monster Series. Especially after what Michael Neel said in the comments here:]
Microsoft will grow in the future buy continuing support of agile software methods and the tools to support those methods. Team System is awesome, and the first real software aimed at making my life easier (I’m the guy who writes software). .Net 3.0 offers great options like WPF that let me create apps *exactly* as the user interface designer wanted.
A key idea in agile methods is there is one and only one measure of software success: how the users like the program. The technologies that will be hot in the next decade will be the ones the support the agile mindset.
The comic — I get it totally. I go into a meeting and say “I don’t give a crap about the OLAP details of your data warehouse, this ‘dashboard’ is ugly as hell.” It’s not the users that think I’m crazy — it’s the other IT people.
BTW Hugh, if you figure out how to market tech without triggering the fire and brimstone you get in the comments… there is a job for you in the Middle East
Thanks, Michael, though I’m not too worried about the “fire and brimstone”. It seems to go with the territory… plus it’s good to be kept on one’s toes. But I do agree with your “agile mindset” idea. Perfect.
Secondly, all this vigorous Open-Source competition is good for Microsoft long-term. A good general never underestimates the enemy [Though I doubt Microsoft sees Open Source as its “enemy” per se, if this recent blog post from Microsoft’s Sam Ramji is anything to go by]. One thing I learned from working with English Cut, there’s a lot to be said for respecting and yes, even praising one’s competition. From a marketing perspective, it works wonders.
[N.B. The cartoon originally appeared in The Hughtrain, back in 2004.]
April 23, 2007
This is another old cartoon  that I think would fit nicely into the Microsoft Blue Monster Series.
I was talking to somebody the other day from Microsoft, saying that the point of the cartoon series should not just be to articulate “The Selling Proposition” of Microsoft [The phrase, “Dancing around like a bunch of high school cheerleaders” came up more than once.].
I believe there are far more compelling conversations out there. What is software for? What is Microsoft for? Where does Microsoft fit within the entire ecosystem? How does Microsoft stay relevant long-term? Why does any of this matter in the first place? You tell me.
[First Rule of Marketing:] If you want to be interesting, don’t talk about yourself. Amen.
April 22, 2007
[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
I originally posted this cartoon last year, but something told me it just HAD to be part of the Blue Monster Series…
April 21, 2007
[Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
Heh. There’s another “Blue Monster” in the tech world. This time in the guise of a laptop cover. Cute.
[Click on image to enlarge etc. Part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
[Bonus Link:] “I’d rather be Microsoft than Yahoo.”
April 20, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series.]
I drew this one at a pub in Chiswick last week. Microsoft’s Chris Parkes explains.
April 19, 2007
“Yeah, he looks kinda mean, but Microsoft needs its balls back.“
–Nathan Weinberg on the Blue Monster.
Also, for Bill Hilf, General Manager of Platform Strategy, Microsoft:
“Shared growth works.”
He was referring to the shared growth of both Microsoft and Open Source within the entire tech ecology etc.
April 17, 2007
The Blue Monster makes an appearance at Web 2.0 Expo, courtesy of the Microsoft Partner Group.
Oh, and nice to see Dennis’ Blue Monster t-shirt finally arrived…
The virus spreads…
April 16, 2007
[“Science Project”: part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
This cartoon was an attempt by me to sum up the answer to a very simple question: If Open Source software is free, then why bother spending money on Microsoft Partner stuff?
I already know what Microsoft’s detractors will say: “There’s no reason whatsoever. $40 billion per year is totally wasted.“
This, however is not a very satisfying answer, simply because it doesn’t quite ring true. Otherwise there’d be a lot more famous Open Source billionaires out there, being written up in Forbes Magazine or wherever. And Bill Gates would’ve been ousted years ago.
I know very little about software, so my hunch is that the reason Microsoft is able to make money, is simply that running a large business with 2000 people on the payroll requires very different ways of going about it, than just hacking together something in your garage. Open Source may be free [at least at first], but how well does it scale? How well does Open Source currently meet the needs of shareholders and CEOs?
You tell me. Anybody who has more insight than me [pro or anti Microsoft, I don’t care], please feel free to leave a comment, Thanks.
[Comment– Darcy Moen:]“Hugh, the question you need to answer is: Does software drive business development, or does need drive software development?“
Darcy, I think that is a question we all have yet to answer fully. I don’t think anybody has cracked it 100% yet.
The way you framed your comment [read it in its entirety below] implies that the gap that separates what you aspire to do, and what you are actually doing with software is minimal. Even knowing what little I know about how IT works in the REAL world, I am not entirely convinced.
The “Microsoft vs Open Source” question doesn’t interest me so much. The question, “What/How does Microsoft have to do/change if it wishes to survive the next thirty years” interests me greatly. And not just Microsoft, either…
[UPDATE:] “Why are the open source business people not ultra-rich yet?” Serious food for thought.
[UPDATED:] JP Rangaswami. “10 Reasons For Enterprise To Use Open Source.“
[UPDATE:] Seth Godin. “It’s not often that I disagree with Hugh, but this time, I do…“
[UPDATE:] Rick Segal. “Shareholders, CEOs, and (for the most part) Investors are generally clueless when it comes to the beginnings of your great idea. You take the tools (whatever they are), your vision, and your passion into the game. You create a solution and see if the dogs eat it. You don’t worry about pleasing anyone, just fix the problem. If it was worth fixing, if the product/service you offer has value/meaning to people, you are there. Your shareholders and your investors will be happy after your customers are.“
[Comment– James:] If Microsoft views me as a customer, then why do they go out of their way to get me the tools needed to drive sales on their behalf? Why am I always getting reminders about the free services they provide? I have yet to be approached by Microsoft to purchase software/products. Not once. Other companies flood me with product offerings that they want me to buy. Microsoft doesn’t. They give me what I need to drive sales, which ultimately some ends in MS’s coffers, but also puts some in mine as well. I’ve come out ahead in my Partnership with Microsoft to this point, I wouldn’t say I’m a customer based on that. Customers end up on the negative side of the money equation, not ahead.
[AFTERTHOUGHT:] I am sad to report that Microsoft’s Steve Clayton has gone on vacation this week, so we won’t be having his wonderful contributions in the comments section for a while. But I’m hoping other MS folk and Partners will join in the discussion in his absence etc.]
[Bonus Link:] “10 things they didn’t tell you about blogging.” Fabulous.
April 12, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
Tim Kitchin of Glasshouse Partners left the following comment on my big “Microsoft Partner” entry:
Not that I have clue what you’re going to do for Microsoft…but I sort of applaud MS for pushing out the ‘ecosystem’ word in favour of the old fashioned ‘partner’.
On the other hand partner is a really clumsy word to describe the array of interdependencies and power imbalances which really exist out there.
A lot of richness gets lost when you clump 750,000 companies into one category like ‘partners’.
If you can provoke some more structured conversations around mutual value-exchange, that would be a big step forward for them.
Here are some thoughts:
1. “Is “Partner” the best word possible? Maybe, maybe not. Then again, if I had a small, tech-orientated company– a small town consultancy in Vermont with only one or two employees, say, I imagine I would LOVE being thought of as a “partner“of Microsoft, as opposed to just a “middleman” or a “user”. It would convey to my customers that, whatever others may think about me, at the end of the day, MS takes me seriously. Not a bad message to be sending out from Vermont.
2. “Microsoft Ecosystem Member.” Not sure if that works too well, either.
3. What Microsoft does is so vast and complex, it’s hard getting the big picture sometimes [Hint: they don’t just make stuff for PCs]. The good news is, there’s so much going on in the company, I’m not too worried about running out of cool, new stuff to write about.
4. This project I’m doing with Microsoft is not the result of some grand, evil scheme on my part. It started very small, only a couple of weeks ago. Somebody inside Microsoft asked me to draw some cartoons for the Partner Group. A couple of dozen rough sketches and e-mail exchanges later, I thought it would be more interesting to just post my efforts online, and see the conversation we were having privately mutate into something much bigger. Happily, they liked the idea and gave me an immediate greenlight. But I truly believe that this spirit of spontaneity is what will keep the project interesting in the long term. Rock on.
April 10, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
[One More Time:] “For too long, Microsoft has allowed other people– the media, the competition and their detractors, especially– to tell their story on their behalf, instead of doing a better job of it themselves.
We firmly believe that Microsoft must start articulating their story better– what they do, why they do it, and why it matters– if they’re to remain happy and prosperous long-term.“
[Bonus Link] From JP Rangaswami:
Think about it. What keeps the ecosystem going? Who is the pest? Who is the parasite? And is the plant healthy as a result?
Distribution channels are partners. Ecosystem members are partners. Customers are partners.
As we move from proprietary to open worlds, we are seeing another transition. The customer is becoming the partner. And not a day too soon.
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
One of the ideas I’ve been playing around with the Microsoft Partner Group is– the idea of “crossing the chasm”.
i.e. Crossing the chasm between tinkering away with a neat new idea in your garage, vs taking the idea and turning it into a viable long-term business.
i.e. Crossing the chasm between “Idea” and “Execution”. That is where the bodies pile up etc.
And maybe, just maybe, Microsoft is a better option for making this crossing than Linux. Maybe not in all instances, but maybe for the guy who they’re trying to sell a package to, oh yes they are.
This cartoon was kinda me thinking along those lines…
Some people were surprised to find me suddenly on Microsoft’s payroll. But I had my reasons for doing this:
1. The challenge. So far I had proved my marketing ideas to myself with two small companies, English Cut and Stormhoek. But would the ideas scale to a big company like Microsoft? Could the Hughtrain work on a macro level? I guess now is my chance to find out.
2. “Cultural Re-Invention” is a subject very dear to my heart. [See the cartoon above, drawn in 2004] It’s very hard to run a company once it gets big. The grim reality of managing the politics and keeping the shareholders happy takes over from the reasons why the company was founded in the first place: to make great stuff. This explains why upper management gets paid so much– what they do is incredibly difficult. A few years ago I got the idea that if I could learn all about cultural re-invention, learn about getting one’s corporate mojo back, and then apply what I knew to paying clients, it would be a pretty good business to be in. In the meantime, Microsoft seemed to have reached a crossroads, what with Bill Gates stepping down, competitors like Google etc appearing on the horizon in ever-greater strength and numbers, open-source becoming bigger and bigger, Web 2.0 becoming bigger and bigger etc. etc, so in terms of what I was doing, their situation genuinely interests me.
3. Robert Scoble changed my life. When I saw what Robert was doing with his blog, back when he was working at Microsoft, I had a big “A-Ha!” moment. THIS was how to tear at the membranes in the company culture that were holding things back. This was how to go about “Cultural Re-Invention”. This, quite simply, was the future to me. Sadly [for me, at least, probably not so sadly for him] he flew the nest and went to go work in Startup-ville, for a great little company called Podtech. I felt a bit cheated, to be honest. It was like he had quit telling the story before we’d heard the ending. Of course, he had every right to do this, and his reasons for leaving were perfectly kosher, but still… I wasn’t quite ready to see the experiment end. I suppose in the end, I decided the best way to keep the experiment going was to start my own version, myself.
4. This is just a natural extension to the conversations I was already having elsewhere. This whole thing, including the Blue Monster, all came about from an ongoing conversation Steve Clayton and I started when we first me at the London Girl Geek Dinner last autumn. This gig just seems like a natural continuation of it.
5. It’s nice having something new to write about. Seriously. New adventures are always a good thing etc.
6. Who knows, maybe this will work. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar company with offices all over the world. I’m just a guy with an internet connection, typing away from a basement flat in West London. I like the odds.
[Comment– Richard Stacey:]
One thing you should try and get Microsoft people to do is “STOP BEING SO APOLOGETIC”. Whenever you put a Microsoft person on a platform — they always feel the need to apologise, or make awkward jokes. Do Yahoo people apologise for being from Yahoo? Likewise Google? Is this what the Blue Monster thing is about (could it become part of it)?
April 9, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
[Bonus Link:] Microsoft’s Steve Clayton responds to the recent “Microsoft is Dead” meme.
Overall I think it’s a well written post and has some very valid points. The main point is nobody fears Microsoft these days. GREAT — that’s progress I think. Why should people fear Microsoft? That’s what got us a bad name in the first place!
[P.S. I got the line, “The network is more powerful than the node” from Adriana.]
April 7, 2007
[Cartoon part of the Microsoft Blue Monster Series. Backstory from Steve and Kris etc.]
If you look in the comments of the previous post, you’ll see some really smart discussions about Microsoft going on.
Especially nice to see Robert Scoble [formerly of Microsoft] chiming in:
Steve: a lot of people inside Microsoft think what I did for three years [at Microsoft] was be an arrogant, egotistical asshat.
They missed the little secret sauce that I fell into by accident: these tools let you listen to customers and influentials and haters and respond.
I know of one cool team at Redmond that’s about to bring out something small at Mix07. It’s not a big thing that’ll kill Amazon or Google. It’s a small thing. But it’ll get lots of hype.
Because they demonstrated they are listening to the conversation that’s happening out there across tons of tech blogs.
That’s what’s magical about Microsoft letting average employees blog: it guarantees that a few will fall into the same secret sauce I did and will have to listen to people outside of Redmond for a few minutes a day.
It just was frustrating to me that I couldn’t get the leadership to really listen too.
Microsoft’s Steve Clayton [one of the guys responsible for getting me this gig] replied to Robert:
Robert — some good arguments. Big companies clearly find it harder to take risks and as you showed whilst at Microsoft, it’s the people on the ground who take the risks (both personal and on behalf of the company). Hugh got hired by some risk takers at Corp, not by Bill and Co.
With respect to Amazon, Google and others a major difference is Microsoft’s channel approach. Sure Microsoft will release something cool and innovative every now and then but more interesting is the channel of partners doing that on the Microsoft platform — people like Skinkers, Mydeo, Caspian, Horsesmouth, Dotnet, Thirteen23 and many more. That’s a pretty serious business engine that most observers of Microsoft miss. As Hugh says, we need to make them the rock stars as they’re a huge competitive advantage to Microsoft.
And of course, the unsinkable Dennis Howlett had something to say:
When the Blue Monster finally caves in and says: ‘we’re dicounting 90% on the commodity but you pay for the real extras’ then I’ll be a huge fan. As it is, Microsoft sucks calories from IT that it doesn’t deserve. That’s why it is pretty much shut out of recruitment in the Valley– where the innovators are working. Or at least that’s what your company’s innovation team leader tells me.
No amount of fun stuff that Hugh does will change that. This ain’t consumery stuff that you can decide to take or not. This is serious business stuff with real $$/££/€€ at stake.
Hopefully people inside Microsoft are seeing this…