Seattle Times’ article on the post-Gates era, plus ThinkWeek and the need for “more cowbell”

Benjamin J. Romano has an insightful article in today’s Seattle Times on the preparations “for the post-Gates era” at Microsoft by the leadership.  

“Building a bank of collective wisdom is one part of the preparations going on at the highest levels as Microsoft prepares for a momentous shift to the post-Gates era.

“For the past year, and really the better part of the past decade, Gates has been downloading the institutional knowledge of Microsoft and the software industry stored in his head to the leaders who will handle his responsibilities at the company he co-founded 32 years ago.”

On Think Week:  The article also touches on Gates’ much-heralded Think Week. If you haven’t heard of Bill’s week-long retreat to go through many of the dozens (or usually hundreds) of papers submitted, Think Weeks are semi-annual opportunities for employees to submit the best ideas that are bubbling up in Microsoft. As Gates’ said, Think Week is an opportunity to “read the latest Ph.D. theses, try out new technologies, and try and write down my thoughts about where the market is going.”

Bill reads and comments on the papers supported all the while by what the Journal termed as “a steady stream of Diet Orange Crush.”  I recommend the coverage a couple of years ago by Robert Guth here in The WSJournal and Dare’s good write-up in an old blog posting

Past Think Weeks used to be one of those things that people talked about in hushed tones and references, almost like some sort of secret ritual, but no longer.  That’s good, as there’s a tremendous benefit to expose the ideas to a larger set of employees.  It’s not so much “done by committee” as Romano wrote in his article: Ray Ozzie, quoted in the article today…

” ‘Think week’ has been transitioning from a single ‘Bill thing’ to something where a broader audience gets the chance to comment on submitted papers. The tradition of think week is incredibly strong,” Ozzie, who replaced Gates as chief software architect, said in an interview earlier this year with the Wharton School’s online business journal.”

That’s also good, as The Journal reported in 2005 that there were nearly 300 papers for his week’s review: having more eyes looking at the papers benefits us all.  People should be encouraged to take the initiative and be exposed to the insight and ideas of the incredible talent at the company. They can also see an evolution of different areas, technologies and thoughts over the years. 

On technical leadership: Switching gears for a moment… and thinking about a “post-Gates era”…  Brad Silverberg, ex-Microsoft exec and strategic consultant to Ballmer, was quoted in the article that Microsoft is “a notoriously difficult place for outsiders to come in and be successful.”

That’s true. It’s also a place where Ozzie has been able to capture the attention and respect of employees in the company. 

And we need more Ray.  (Said with the same emphasis as in the historic SNL quip of “more cowbell!”) 

IMHO, it’s important that he also espouse on what he believes we should focus on, improve upon. As mini-microsoft blogged in this post on “random unconnected things” back in February… 

“Where’s Ray? I’m sure Ray Ozzie has been busy being the wizard behind the connected services scene of the future, but he’s just plain running too silent for my comfort. And I’m sure with Mix07 he’s going to go through presenting some new technology we’re thinking about… perhaps even add single 2007 entry to his unloved blog. But if Ray is the bridge to the connected future from the present Gates, we all need more obvious leadership infrastructure getting us there, and more engagement from Ray and his brigade about what’s happening and what kind of coherent vision is coming about. Silence makes me edgy.”

I agree. As I posted previously, Ray’s external blogs may not be updated regularly, but it appears that Ozzie gets it, and is working on being more visible.  He is in the press more and more, thankfully, and increasingly visible, more communicative and thoughtful on the big issues that impact the company.  He’s positive on the focus needed on the customer experience: “the most important person is the customer or integrator that understands how to match the capabilities of a specific technology to what’s needed.”

Again, IMHO, this is an area for improvement, an area that Gates has mastered. It was noted in the Times article (by Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft) that Bill has the “automatic respect of every Microsoft employee.”

IMO you have great, articulate and technically astute leaders in people like Bob Muglia, Jeff Raikes, Jon DeVaan, J Allard, Satya Nadella, Soma, Steven Sinofsky… the list goes on.  These leaders also understand the importance of providing a great customer experience with our products and services. 

Ray is from the same mould. And I believe that Ray can also help — along with the rest of the company leadership — fill the need for insightful, public technical voices at a global level as Gates departs.

More cowbell.

Worth reading also are the sidebar articles on Craig Mundie and Ray Ozzie…

  • Craig Mundie: Company envoy will keep that role
  • Ray Ozzie: Collaborative leader has “coaching style”
  • Tags: Bill Gates, Ray Ozzie, customer satisfaction, Microsoft.

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