March 28, 2006
@ 06:56 AM

Today I read two contradictory posts about Microsoft employees and passion. The first post I found via Mini-Microsoft. It is entitled Microsoft, Your Slip Is Showing (Passion) and is excerpted below

And this partly explains the passion of the comments you will read on this post at Mini-Microsoft.

Skewering the Microsoft leadership. Calling for heads to roll. Frustration. Disgust. Dark humor. Cynicism. Optimism. Pessimism. Rage. Love. Hate.

Another reason -- big reason -- why the Microsoft commenters are so passionate: They give a damn. Whatever else you may think about their comments, their Give-A-Damn meter is registering in the Green. Sure, it may seem like I've got it ass backwards and they're pegged out in the dreaded Red zone.

I'm sure a few are indeed red-zoning, but what I see mostly are folks who want to to be the best. They want their team to be the best. They are proud people. They are winners. They hate the thought of losing -- in any endeavor... to any person or thing.

The people who work for Microsoft are not only some of the best minds in the computer industry, they give a damn about what they do. That is a good thing.

I could be critical of this post but Rory Blyth beat me to the punch in his [unrelated] yet quite relevant post entitled Ten Minutes of Sincerity - Enthusiasthma where he writes


The contemporary blight of communication, at least at Microsoft, is passion. You can’t walk three feet on the Redmond campus without hearing someone talk about passion. If you interview for a job at Microsoft, you will get drilled about your passion. During the course of your job, you will attend meetings in which people constantly refer to passion. You will receive emails about passion.

Again, like communication, passion is a good thing. It’s good to talk. It’s good to be excited. But, it’s gotten to the point that the passion has become a sort of disease. I call it "Enthusiasthma"
This notion of constantly being excited is exhausting. It’s not healthy. It isn’t normal. It’s downright stupid and counter-productive.

People at the company are so terrified now of not appearing to show passion that they’ll give you Oscar-winning speeches about what they had for lunch and why it was so great for customers. If you end a sentence with fewer than three exclamation points, offset by several spaces to isolate the excitement and drive it home, then you clearly aren’t really behind whatever it is that you’re talking about.
As long as employees feel pressured to constantly overflow with passion, they’re going to be terrified to speak when it’s time to address what isn’t going so well. I’ve watched projects continue, and not with any great success, fueled mainly by passion. In those cases, yeah, people are being passionate, but they’re putting all this passion into things that aren’t really helping. They’ve been fooled by their own passion.

And this is happening company-wide. It’s like open honesty and skepticism are getting brushed aside for passion. It’s spreading thanks to that other often celebrated social disease, the meme. It’s everywhere. And the word is used so often that it’s losing its meaning.

At Microsoft, one of the other words you’ll hear left and right is “innovation.” I’ve already said what I want to say about this awful word, but regardless of how overused I think the word “innovation” is, I still understand its importance.

So here’s something to think about: As long as people are running around with all this passion, having left their critical thinking and skepticism in the late 90’s, and while they’re driving these sometimes winning/sometimes losing projects with all this passion, they’re handicapping their ability to innovate. Innovation is only good as long as what’s being created is actually useful.

We have this situation, then, where one company ideal, innovation, is getting squashed by another company ideal, which is passion.

The problem is that all of this reeks of extremism and zealotry, which never lead to real success. The way you win with extremism is by fooling yourself into believing that everything you think is right, and then bludgeoning your enemies with your abundant resources until they give. That’s not really winning.

Rory says a lot of what I would have said in criticism of the passion post I found via Mini-Microsoft and does it with a lot less bitterness than I could ever muster. If you ask me, Microsoft could do with a lot less of its so-called passionate employees.