April 24, 2006
@ 01:59 PM

It's MS Poll season. This is when at work our employer encourages us to fill out an opinion poll on how we feel our day jobs and the company in general. Besides Mini-Microsoft I've seen a couple of the introspective posts about working in the B0rg cube I expect to see during this season such as Robert Scoble's How Microsoft can shut down Mini-Microsoft and Mike Torres's Playing to "not lose.

I don't really have anything intospective to add to what they've written. I probably won't fill out MS Poll this year since it's always felt to me like a pointless opinion poll. If my management can't tell what I like or dislike about working here then it's a screw up on both our parts which won't be fixed by a hastily filled out opinion poll.

I did find an interesting comment by Leah Pearlman to Mike Torres's post I felt compelled to talk about. She wrote

Re: Innovation. Hmm. I agree and disagree. I agree from the standpoint of a Microsoft employee who wants to work on innovative things.  I agree with you that there’s been too much talk about “how to beat the competition.” Reinventing the wheel because Yahoo! and Google have wheels doesn't get me out of bed in the morning. But! (you knew it was coming) My opinion lately has been that there's too much emphasis put on innovation at Microsoft, and it comes at the expense of fundamentals, intuitiveness, simplicity.  Often times there are great reasons why our competitors have done certain things , and I see people carelessly disregard these things in the name of innovation.

Innovation is one of those words Microsoft has killed. What has begun to irritate me is when people describe what is basically a new feature in their product as an innovation. To start off, by definition, since you work at a big software nothing you work on is innovative. Even Google who used to be raised up as the poster child of innovation in the software industry have been reduced to copying Yahoo! services and liberally sprinkling them with AJAX as they've grown bigger. 

Often when I hear people claiming that the new feature in their Microsoft product is an innovation it just makes them look ignorant. Most of their innovations are either (i) already shipping in products offered by competitors or startups that anyone who reads TechCrunch is aware of or (ii) are also being worked on by some poor slobs at AOL/Google/Yahoo! who also think their feature is extremely innovative. As Jeremy Zawodny pointed out in his post Secrets of Product Development and What Journalists Write

Larger companies rarely can respond that quickly to each other. It almost never happens. Sure, they may talk a good game, but it's just talk. Building things on the scale that Microsoft, Google, AOL, or Yahoo do is a complex process. It takes time.

Journalists like to paint this as a rapidly moving chess game in which we're all waiting for the next move so that we can quickly respond. But the truth is that most product development goes on in parallel. Usually there are people at several companies who all have the same idea, or at least very similar ones. The real race is to see who can build it faster and better than the others.

The culture of bragging about dubious innovations likely springs from the need to distinguish yourself from the pack in a reward culture that takes dog-eat-dog to another level. Either way, do me a favor. Stop calling your new features innovations. They aren't.

Thanks for listening


Categories: Life in the B0rg Cube
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Monday, April 24, 2006 7:08:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Great point on separating features from innovation. I personally favor this def of innovation:

"Innovation is what you do for the customer, not what you do to your product."

At least that puts innovation in the context of customers and the market, where real innovations make a difference.
Monday, April 24, 2006 7:45:24 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Amen to that Dare. I already commented on my woes at hearing the word 'innovation'. I'm still trying to figure out what I classify as really innovative. Another problem becomes who created it first vs. who really create big market adoption. So for instance everyone made a big deal about GChat being in Gmail. I know hotmail had a feature like this year ago, but I've never met anyone whoes used it. Who was the innovator then? Does it matter who did it first, or just who the public thinks did it first?
Monday, April 24, 2006 8:33:05 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Wish I had time to comment further, but suffice it to say:

Well Said!
Wednesday, April 26, 2006 5:36:08 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Nicely said as well. I think you might be overlooking the fact that many PMs honestly think it is innovation, since they haven't looked in the market for any similar functionality. In their minds, it is *new*, because they don't know of anyone else doing it. (Of course, the devs/testers may know, but who are they to question a PM?)
Thanks for your insight!
Monday, May 1, 2006 3:27:36 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Microsoft's constant harping on "innovation" is one of the things that turns techies and programmers from elsewhere off the quickest.

It doesn't hold water. It's people who innovate, not companies, and people innovate when they are able to compare and contrast. Just look at the ancient Greeks - if they hadn't been so interested in the way everyone else lived in the East Mediterranean basin and the Fertile Crescent, they would never have built up such a large set of counter-examples to their most cherished beliefs, and consequently, they would never have started questioning them in the difficult and time-consuming manner pioneered by the Sophists and Socrates.

So Microsoft is living in a cul-de-sac of its own making? And the constant "innovation" drone is a symptom? Interesting observation.
Wesley Parish
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