I was chatting with Mike Vernal a few weeks ago about the various outcomes we've seen from writing a Bill Gates Thinkweek paper. We came up with the following taxonomy
Increased Visibility for the Author: These are usually the papers of the form "Here's a Cool Idea from [my buddies and] me". The most common result for a ThinkWeek paper is for the author to get a virtual pat on the back from BillG and to get their name noticed by their management especially since some product groups have an internal review of these papers before sending them up the stack to the big man himself.
Increased Visibilty for a Product Group: These are usually the papers of the form "Here's a Cool Idea from [my product group]". Sometimes a product group wants to lay out its vision for their product or technology space to the big guy outside of the usual executive review + PowerPoint format and a ThinkWeek paper is good way to do that. A great example is the MapPoint team which submitted the "Virtual Earth" paper recently.
The Fire Drill: These are usually of the form "Here's a Cool Opportunity that Microsoft is missing". The best example of this is the "Internet Tidal Wave" memo that Bill Gates sent in response to J Allard's thinkweek paper a decade ago. Many people who send in a ThinkWeek paper are expecting this reaction and in fact I've seen a few that actually have "send Internet Tidal wave-style memo" as one of the recommendations in their paper. Of course, the chances of such reactions to the average ThinkWeek paper are the same as getting a record deal from sending Dr. Dre a copy of your demo tape.
Spreading a Meme: Sometimes the ideas in a paper are so powerul it seems that they take a life of their own as they spread from person to person. It is hard to point to any direct action being taken as a result of them but their influence is felt by many. This is my favorite outcome from a ThinkWeek paper.
A recent ThinkWeek paper entitled "10 Crazy Ideas to Shake Up Microsoft" is exactly the last kind of paper mentioned above. The MiniMicrosoft blog mentioned this paper a while ago in a post entitled Think Week, the WSJ, and those Ten Crazy Ideas. According to Mini the 10 Ideas were
- Schedule Unscheduled Time into Performance Reviews
- "Break Up" the Company
- Encourage Loose but Prominent Couplings
- Exile and Empower Incubation Projects
- Offer Super-exponential Rewards
- Offer Different Risk-Reward Compensation Profiles
- Cut Back on Bureaucracy
- Review Cost Cutting
- Reduce Headcount on Large Dev Projects
- Eliminate Exec Reviews
Why I like the list [and why I assume it's been so popular at work] is that it succintly summarizes the major problems facing folks trying to get stuff done at Microsoft today AND proposes solutions. I suspect these problems exist in every large corporation and are not limited to Microsoft or even software companies.
If you work at Microsoft and you haven't read the paper, you really should. If you work at a medium sized to large corporation and you are a decision maker you should staple that list to a bulletin board in your office and ruminate on its points.