Microsoft Slumbers as the Tech Industry Races Past

by Jeff Wiener on June 24, 2010

What’s wrong with Microsoft? It’s a question that seems to be on everyone’s lips these days. For some, Microsoft’s ongoing struggle to gain a competitive edge in the mobile market is a sure sign of the apocalypse, or at least a sign of the impending doom of the tech giant. For others less inclined towards irrational doom-and-gloom predictions, while the overall fate of Microsoft isn’t in doubt, the company certainly has seemed to have lost a step, no longer the daring and cavalier game-changer it once was.

So what has changed for Microsoft? What has made this past market leader more cautious and timid in the tech world? In my mind, there isn’t any one answer to these questions, as Microsoft has fallen victim to a number of issues that have changed the way the once-dominate tech company views its competition, approaches new innovation, and responds to change. So perhaps the real question is, will Microsoft, the cliqued sleeping giant of the tech industry, wake up in time to make a difference in the mobile market?

While the reasons behind Microsoft’s apparent inability or disinterest in competing in the various hot spots of the every-growing tech industry are clearly multifaceted, here are a few key points that I think are sapping Microsoft’s competitive spirit and, in the end, are keeping the tech giant in the shadows of an industry it once dominated.

Corporate Lethargy

There’s an interesting evolution that occurs in many companies that have soared to the top of their respective markets, the people that got the company to the top suddenly get lazy. I don’t mean to say that these people stop working, just that their energies shift from innovation and advancement spurred on by a desire to keep their company afloat to the desire for stability and security. While this change happens on a personal scale, it effects are felt on the corporate level as well, meaning that a once dynamic company suddenly finds itself static, its employees too comfortable to continue to push forward.

The Middle Management Problem

The added problem, especially in Microsoft’s case, as popular tech blogger Joe Wilcox notes, is a ballooning middle management. If anyone has seen the popular office satire movie, Office Space, one is keenly aware of the frustration caused by multiple levels of management desperately trying to feel useful in a corporate structure that, in reality, has little place for them. Further, nothing stymies the journey of innovative and insightful ideas up the chain of command more than every manager along that chain trying to get a piece of the pie.

Gun Shy of the Government

While the critical evil eye of the Federal regulators has turned its burning gaze towards Apple for the time being, Microsoft was the original antitrust darling of the country, and for me, it seems that twenty-odd years of governmental intrusion into Microsoft’s practices have left the company feeling gun shy, unclear of what is acceptable and what isn’t in the patent-rich technology market, and afraid to try something new lest they be again chastised like a child caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

But is there a way forward for Microsoft, a posssible ray of hope amidst the genearl malaise that has apparently decsended on this compnay? Join me next week as I continue to investigate some of the deeper reasons behind Microsoft’s quiet capitulation in the tech market, and a look at a way forward for the once great tech company.

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