The powers that be at Microsoft unleashed their attack dog, Frank Shaw to punch back at the tech press; justifiably so, I only wish they would have done it sooner. For the past few days we have seen nothing “news articles” slamming Ballmer. Sure he has made some major mistakes, but there was not even a slight attempt to balance the coverage even slightly. The problem is that what is written on tech blogs is regurgitated into the mainstream press. For example Forbes call Ballmer the worst CEO ever of any publically traded company.
Ballmer doubled profits, tripled revenues and served as Bill Gates’ right hand man since near the inception of the company. Half of Microsoft’s billion dollar businesses came to fruition under Ballmer. Ballmer certainly wasn’t the greatest CEO ever but given the circumstances and the situation he inherited I thought he did an okay job. And it’s tough to think someone who would have done significantly better in his place.
Of course there are other contributing factors to why the tech press never liked Ballmer. Outside of his enthusiasm for the company, the press found him boring. He did not have the flair of Larry Elison, buying yachts, islands etc. He was not a socialite like Marissa Mayer who worse designer clothes and bought a penthouse at the four seasons. Ballmer, relative to his wealth, lived modestly and simply loved working at Microsoft.
Here is a part of what Frank wrote:
For example, the variability in the coverage we received this weekend put me in mind of the opening paragraph from Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us.
It’s puzzling how this could be, how the same set of facts could possibly lead to such radically divergent conclusions on the part of so many writers, pundits and self-promoters.
And that’s when I remembered Rashomon, Kurosawa’s classic film from 1950. In it, four characters each recount widely varying versions of the same set of events, and the viewer is left to reach their own conclusion about what really happened. I had fun imagining what the running time of that film would have been in an era with Twitter and 24 hour news cycles. For a quicker, funnier film version, check out “Hoodwinked” which has much the same construct, plus an over-caffeinated squirrel.
Of course, the key thing that determines how we interpret a set of facts is the frame we view them through and what pre-existing beliefs that frame is built on.
Study after study shows we tend to focus on facts that support our beliefs, and ignore those that don’t fit neatly.
In research, this is known as confirmation bias, and it’s a very hard thing to overcome, even when you are aware of it.
So, if you really want to understand what’s going on with a category as complex as the one we operate in, you’ve got your work cut out for you.
Read Frank Shaw’s full blog post: On Dickens, Rashomon and Twitter
David Curtis wrote a good example of a balanced article on his site, from which I have excerpted the conclusion:
Good enough and better
Ballmer has led Microsoft through an insanely tumultuous twelve years. The entire technology industry has dramatically changed at least three times. Some companies are lucky to last through one major industry change. Ballmer and Microsoft have identified each of these shifts and then doubled down on owning the platforms of the future. The strategy often fails. But sometimes it succeeds, and the successes more than make up for the failures.
I don’t think it’s fair nor constructive to hold Microsoft to a standard very much higher than the one it currently adheres to. Microsoft, as an enterprise services company that also builds occasionally successful consumer products, is undeniably successful. While the future for Microsoft is not so clearly defined, the past has grown out of a series of rational decisions.
Unfortunately, while fiscally rational decisions have been good enough to get Microsoft to where it is today, such decisions have never and will never catapult a company into the top of the future. It’s the difference between a CEO who is good enough and one who is better. Ballmer, I think, is firmly in the good enough camp.
He might even be slightly better, because we should not forget this very consistently true fact: Microsoft makes around $5.5 billion every three months. In pure profit.
Source: Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft