One of my regulars, contemplating the increasingly pathetic series of clusterfucks that have passed for exciting new products at Microsoft, wonders why a company with all its advantages – more money than $DEITY to hire the best developers, lots of experience, dominant position in a major technology market – can’t seem to release a decent product any more.
The answer is simple and deep. It’s because evil is inefficient.
Ethical behavior and sustainability are connected in both directions; the wages of sin are self-damage.
When you pursue a business model based on secrecy rent and control of your customers, you must become the kind of organization that an obsession with secrecy and control requires. Eventually, this will smother your ability to do decent engineering as surely as water flows downhill and the sun rises in the morning.
This is why Microsoft looks so doomed and desperate. Yes, Steve Ballmer is a colossal fool who has never met a strategic decision he couldn’t bungle, but in an important way that is symptom rather than cause. Dysfunctional leaders arise from dysfunctional cultures; the problem behind Ballmer is that Microsoft’s culture is broken, and the problem behind that is that the monopolistic/authoritarian goals around which Microsoft’s culture was constructed are incompatible with any other kind of excellence.
A more poetic way to put this is Tolkien’s “Oft evil will shall evil mar.” Google’s “Don’t be evil” isn’t mere idealism or posturing, it’s an attempt to sustain the kind of culture in which excellence is possible. (Whether and how long this will be a successful attempt is a different question.)
Apple’s turn is next.