Things that didn’t happen, and what it means

I’ve had a head cold for a few days, and paradoxically, that has me thinking in a backwards way about what went on last week. Or, actually, about things that didn’t happen last week, or during 2013, either.

Eric Schmidt, in a Bloomberg interview, says his biggest mistake was missing social:

Eric Schmidt’s 2014 Predictions via Bloomberg

The biggest mistake that I made was not anticipating the rise of the social networking phenomenon. Not a mistake we’re going to make again. I guess in our defense we were busy working on many other things, but we should have been in that area and I take responsibility for that.

But, as I suggested in Eric Schmidt admits his biggest mistake was missing social, Google is still making that mistake everyday. Google+ is an effort to solve that problem, perhaps. But the integration into Gmail, Calendar, and Google Apps feels like an intrusion, an effort to make people use Google+ in its full glory, and not a social addition to the existing functionality of those tools.

The second thing that didn’t happen in the last few days of 2014 — as had been widely discussed — was the long-awaited announcement of a replacement for Steve Ballmer, the soon-to-be-out CEO of Microsoft. The word is that many of the candidates are concerned about taking the job when Ballmer and Gates — two former CEOs of the company — would remain on the board. This sets up the context for really strange board dynamics.

In the past I argued that Microsoft might have to got through two CEOs after Ballmer before making the real changes necessary to turn the company in the right direction:

Stowe Boyd, One Microsoft CEO scenario is looking likely

I have been making a two CEO argument: someone is going to be appointed the new CEO, and more-or-less required to continue the current business plan, which is based on the Ballmer theory of fighting everywhere: the ‘devices and services’ plan he hatched last year and reorganized around. However, that CEO will have to be followed by another CEO, the one that will start making the real changes Microsoft needs to make to become a competitor in its growth area: enterprise software. The board is just not willing to accept the change that the ‘second coming’ implies.

So, now it seems that we may have to wait for the Microsoft board to get at least Ballmer off the board, if not both former CEOs. And getting Gates to leave may be impossible, considering that he has said he expects to spend considerable time working with the new CEO. That sounds like a tough row to hoe for any newcomer.

All of this is bad news for Microsoft, in a world where delay is a killer. And this is all compounded by the barrage of major strategic efforts that Ballmer has put into motion — a major reorg, purchasing Nokia’s handheld business, pushing aggressively  into tablets — all of which the newcomer will have to grapple with starting on Day One. So Microsoft is in a holding pattern, circling the airport, waiting for a James Bond type to skydive into the flight deck and save the day. All looking more and more difficult to pull off.

And the third thing that didn’t happen: work management market consolidation. There is no ‘winner’ in the work management (social business) marketplace. There are dozens of competitors — IBM, Microsoft, Jive, Podio — with amazingly similar approaches to what they call ‘collaboration’ — the context-based (projects, groups, departments, teams, etc.) sharing of digital assets, perhaps including some sort of ‘apps’, and perhaps supporting some sort of following of individuals, tags, or contexts — but we have not matured to the point where a few dominate 90% of the marketplace.

Perhaps that is a sign of the early days in the market, but I think it’s something more. I think there is a mismatch between the collaboration model and the actual way that work is getting done today. And the mismatch is one of the reasons that the idea of social business is causing anxiety in the enterprise. As McLuhan said,

Anxiety occurs when people try to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s tools.

This is a topic that I will returning to a great deal over the months ahead, I am sure.

Relevant Analyst
Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

Lead analyst, future of work Gigaom Research and stoweboyd.com

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