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the microsoft question

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I was hanging out with Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and two of his colleagues yesterday [Hi James and Ben, great meeting you both etc], and the question came up:

“So, Hugh, why are you so interested in Microsoft?”

Fair question. Here are some thoughts:

1. Rebirth. A big, long-term interest for me is how both individuals and organizations, once they’ve been around the block a few times, get their Mojo back. As I wrote in September:

“Rebirth” is a wonderful metaphor, meaning everything from “re-invention” to “regeneration” to “renaissance” to… just about anything.

I find that a large part of the human experience is [a] getting oneself into a rut and then [b] figuring out how to get oneself out of it.

What is true for individuals is also true for large groups of people… businesses, organizations, nations etc etc. How do we re-invent our modus operandi? Serious question.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but it’s a subject that interests me professionally more and more.

And I think it’s a subject that also interests Microsoft more and more. How do they grow? How do they avoid extinction? How do they keep innovating, instead of being calcified to death by their own corporate inertia, something that all big companies suffer from [and often succumb to]?

i.e. It’s a subject that genuinely interests us both. And where there’s genuine mutual interest, there is connection.

2. Robert Scoble. I once went on record saying that Robert Scoble, blogging as a Microsoft employee [N.B. he quit Microsoft earlier this year], was the biggest thing to happen to advertising since Apple’s “1984″ commercial.

I took me a while to figure it out, but one day I suddenly realized, the big story about Robert blogging from inside Microsoft wasn’t the effect he was having on outsiders like myself ["Oh, what a lovely blog, I think I'll go out and buy me a new PC"], but on the effect he was having on his fellow Microsoft employees. His blog was starting conversations that simply could not have happened before the invention of the blog. Why? The Porous Membrane, of course.

This one little insight completely changed and informed my views about the future of marketing. So I have Microsoft to thank for that one.

3. Microsoft is an interesting company. If they weren’t, I doubt they’d get so many millions of words in the mainstream media written about them, every year, like they do. All I’m doing is the same as countless thousands of other journalists and bloggers are doing.

4. Being nice pays off. Thanks to becoming friends with Scoble and the London Girl Geeks in the last year or two, I’ve since met quite a few MS people, and to be quite honest, for the most part they’ve all been well-mannered, interesting, engaging, passionate, very smart people, and I’ve enjoyed their company. Unlike some of the arrogant jerks I’ve met from other companies in my time.

5. They’re in the software business, I’m in the software business. They have a commercial interest in Microsoft product. I have an [albeit much smaller] commercial interest in Thingamy product. So we’ve got that in common.

6. They’re in the de-commodification business, I’m in the de-commodification business. So you think $300 desktop software is ubiquitous? You should see the $10 wine business. Where 80% of the wine sold in the UK is bought by a half-dozen or so top supermarket and retail chains, and the number of commercial, large-scale wineries in the world number in the tens of thousands. You try rising above that clutter, Boyo. Yeah, not easy. Again, where there is common interest, there is connection.

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7. Microsoft wants to change the world, Stormhoek wants to change the world. Again, common interest. How well we succeed is always debatable, but hey, you only live once.

[This was originally posted on my personal blog, gapingvoid.com]

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