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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