No Excuse

Timothy Lee, writing for the Washington Post, “Microsoft’s Decline Wasn’t Steve Ballmer’s Fault”:

But Ballmer’s larger problem is that throughout his 13-year tenure, he was swimming against some very powerful economic currents. His company’s fate was inextricably tied to the success of the PC, and the PC’s fortune peaked with the Nasdaq around 2000. The emergence of interactive Web applications around 2004 began to turn PCs into interchangeable commodities. Then Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad three years later, kicking off a tablet computing boom that left the PC in the dust.

These developments were a classic example of what Clay Christensen called disruptive innovation: cheap, simple innovations that gradually displace a more complex and expensive incumbent technology. History suggests that firms rarely survive when their core product is undermined by a disruptive technology.

Seems to me Lee is in fact arguing that Microsoft’s decline was exactly Ballmer’s fault. His refusal to allow any other projects within Microsoft to disrupt Windows or Office made it inevitable that such disruptions would come from other companies. Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma was itself disruptive to standard business practices, but it came out in 1997. Did Ballmer not read it? Did he think Microsoft was somehow immune?

No one is arguing that Ballmer does not deserve credit for leading Microsoft to huge profits. That’s undeniable. But their weakened position today, more legacy company than technical innovator, is entirely his fault.

Thursday, 29 August 2013