Coat of Paint: Artist Ricardo Richey, commissioned by Fortune, spray-paints a street-smartversion of Microsoft'sname and Window's logo on a San Francisco wall
Reading Microsoft Reboots, in Fortune Mag, about how Microsoft is remaking itself by the launch of the Windows 7 (much acclaimed) product, I am beginning to wonder if the same mantra of sticking to what you do best is not the way to go for companies: especially matured established ones.
Of course, MBA classes teach executives that diversification, broad product lunch, growth strategies through acquisition and entering new business lines is the way to go when trying to sustain growth as a mature company. Proponents point at GE; but for every GE there is three or more Westinghouse. That is, there is always that company that loses it bearing in an attempt to be everything and end up being nothing.
Am always intrigued by ways companies handle their mid-age crisis; like Microsoft is undergoing right now. For some, the stage of maturation and just handling the concept of not being the wonder kid on the block can be humbling if not torturing. Apple had to go through that phase in the 90s, and my argument is that it took Apple to refocus on what it does best to get back on its feet. Trust me, the Ipod/I-Phone was Apple doing what it does best: melding software and hardware to make products users are ready to pay a lot of mullah to have i.e. a cult following.
Perhaps, it is the tendency of consumers to generally isolate iconic product effectiveness with the companies that spawn them. Today, there are arguably four technology global titans (sorry Sony & RIMM), and speaking with American bias they are: Google, Apple, Microsoft and Oracle. This of course has nothing to do with innovation, but everything to do with iconic status achieved via utilitarian & ubiquitous presence and staying power.
Well, for the four, one can argue that they are really excellent at just one thing (with these products driven by specific strategies), and that consumers associate one or few products with each. Hence, they are better off improving than diversifying. Or at least, these companies better don’t screw up that one thing they do best (like MS screwed up Vista) and expect to get bailed out by one of your new fancy pet projects that are more so ego massage tantrums at the competitor (like Zune or Bing- Save me Steve Ballmer!)
What do consumers think of the big four?
- Apple: making sleek hardware-software combo devices that adherents can shell good money on; for most Mac users, theirs is more than a machine; it is a device that elicits passion, envy and love. (Title: King of Super Consumer Electronics).
- Google: useful and mostly free products. Wanna bet away your search engine, free web apps, you-tube and the goodies that come from the G-House? (Title: King of the Free Web & Search)
- Microsoft: Expensive utility products that consumers will have to use either at home or work to make their PCs functional. But they pay indirectly, so who cares? Windows & Office is here to stay. (Title: King of the Desktop)
- Oracle: Software and applications for business users. You don’t pay for their product, but their product run your life.(Title: King of Business Software/Apps)
In summary, Steve Jobs can lay off that dream of conquering the desktop and Steve Ballmer can smoke the pipe crack on beating Google on the web; while Google should dream about its cloud thing being used by my grand-pa (ain’t gonna happen). Moreover, none of them can take on Ellison in the business world; and they all are better off just being who they are! That is also true for the rest of us too…business or personal?
P.S: Just to illustrate. I am sitting in the company truck on a bare field (proposed pump station) in Rock County, Kansas typing this away on Office, because I have no net connection here. I hope to copy and past this to Blogger (owned by Google) tonight when I get to Omaha- 6 hours away. My Apple I-Pod will keep me entertained during those 6 hours drive across Center America, and just before I retire to bed, I need to turn in the field construction reports for the work my crew is doing outside right now on an Oracle driven application, on my laptop (okay, it is not a Mac!)