Founder Steve Jobs' return to Apple generally gets the credit. But as a company, Apple was on the ropes and on the brink of bankruptcy when Jobs unceremoniously killed a wide range of also-ran, me-too products, re-invented its core Macintosh line and essentially re-launched the company around a singular mission: To find opportunities where the "content consumption" experience was universally horrible and enter that market with a new vision for how that kind of content should be consumed.
They did it with the iPod and the iPad. They're trying to do it with TV.
The point is they have a laser-focused mission that makes it perfectly clear why they exist as a company. Microsoft, which is nowhere near as low and desperate as Apple was 14 years ago, needs to do the same thing Apple did, and re-conceptualize itself as a company with a real mission.
2. Embrace an opposite strategy like Google did. Google never really approached anything resembling failure or desperation. But the writing was on the wall. The founders saw it. And they took radical action to reposition Google for another round of epic win.
Google re-invented itself by doing a 180-degree turn on three long-held Google strategies.
The first 180 was all about becoming a hardware company. Google used to make only web-based services like Google Search and Gmail. The company reversed that and got into the hardware racket, directly selling actual hardware products.
The second 180 was a reversal of its long-held "spaghetti" strategy. Rather than harvesting 20 percent-time projects and throwing them against the wall like spaghetti to see what would stick, Google canceled the 20-percent policy and killed off dozens of underperforming properties. It also cut well-performing properties that existed outside its mission of basing everything on algorithmic machine intelligence (yes, I'm talking about Google Reader).
And the third 180 was about design. Google used to be famous for zero-design web sites. Google services were nearly unique in that they had plain-vanilla text, with everything using a minimum of pictures, designs, colors or any other element of design.
But in the new app economy and visual web, zero-design was yesterday's concept. Google smartly recognized this and reversed its approach. Google now has some of the best and most elegantly designed apps and sites anywhere.
Microsoft needs to do some 180s of its own. For example, its policy of having a confusing range of Windows versions needs to be reversed. Its policy of favoring "feature rich" over simple needs to be reversed. Among other strategy reversals.
3. Get your research into products like Motorola did. Motorola did approach bottom and hasn't yet turned itself around. But I believe they're on a solid track to do that.
I have been a huge fan of the iPhone since 2008. But last week I decided to leave the iPhone and buy a Moto X.
The reason is that I found the unique aspects of the Moto X too compelling to ignore. Specifically, their X8 technology, which enables the phone to listen for voice commands while asleep and also to maintain awareness about whether the phone is in a pocket or upside down and where on the planet the phone is.
I'm also impressed that Motorola is manufacturing these phones to order -- they got my custom phone to me two days after I ordered it -- at a cost comparable to the cost of sweatshop, generic-phone manufacturing in China.
Motorola was able to do all this essentially because Google came in and told them to forget about the money -- just execute with their best technology.
Microsoft also has best-in-industry technology. But these inventions and ideas rarely make it out of the labs.
Microsoft is the Xerox PARC of the new millennium, inventing breathtaking ideas, then sitting on its hands while competitors bring similar ideas to market and clobber Microsoft with them.
Microsoft needs to do a 180 on the internal cultural barriers that prevent Microsoft from productizing its best ideas and inventions.
Call me crazy, but I think Microsoft could stage a huge comeback like Apple, Google and Motorola did or are doing.
They need the right leader, yes. But most of all, they need to slaughter all their sacred cows and reverse course on many of the core policies and cultural practices that made them succeed in the past.
Microsoft as we know it is already dead. The only way forward is a totally new Microsoft that bears little resemblance with the old one.
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