In one of Keith Laumer’s novels, interstellar diplomat Retief spoke with a local chieftain on a problem planet. During the conversation the chieftain ascribes part of his negotiating position to his “charming naivete”.
“Chief,” responded Retief, “you don’t have enough naivete to last until lunch.”
Judging from the e-mail I’ve received since giving Microsoft credit for winning the office suite wars, there’s enough naivete in our business to last all day. (See “Office suites: Do you have a choice?” June 1.)
My exact words were, “And Microsoft won this one in a fair fight, by betting on Windows when WordPerfect bet on OS/2 and Lotus bet on its lawyers.” It’s remarkable how few people disagreed.
That is, few readers said, “I disagree with your interpretation.” Instead they told me I was practicing a disgusting form of revisionist history, that I was entirely ignorant and lacked historical perspective, and that I was a sycophant who lacked any sense of ethics.
And I thought you already knew I was a journalist.
Since this is a column about succeeding in IS management, here’s a suggestion you can use on a daily basis: Give credit for honest disagreement. When you demonize everyone who disagrees with you, you sound like a member of Congress. Bad career move.
Microsoft has adopted the popular philosophy that business is war. In war, guile and deception have been recognized as legitimate tactics for thousands of years. Reading Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is as important for winning in competitive markets as Machiavelli is for surviving office politics. I recommend it.
Sure, Microsoft recommended developing for OS/2 to Lotus and WordPerfect back in the 1980s. Microsoft either deceived them or changed its mind after its OS/2 development partnership with IBM fell apart, but the 1980s, non-monopoly Microsoft wasn’t under oath and wasn’t required to tell the truth in either case.
Lotus and WordPerfect gave away their franchises through stupidity. CEOs don’t get their ridiculous salaries to accept a competitors’ public relations at face value, any more than a highly ranked military officer should be taken in by a noisy flank attack.
While Microsoft had a top-quality word processor and spreadsheet to sell with Windows 2.0, 1-2-3 for Windows was surpassed by both Excel and Quattro Pro. Lotus never even bothered to create a word processor – it eventually bought the nearly unknown Ami Pro to throw in a box with 1-2-3.
WordPerfect’s first Windows version came out far too late and its office suite even later, cobbled together out of spare parts since WordPerfect never bothered to create a decent spreadsheet.
Yes, Microsoft has its hidden APIs. Yes, they probably make a small difference in overall product quality. Since product quality has almost nothing to do with either mind share or market share, though, you’re left with an important question: So what?
Let’s take this personal. You’re in a leadership position, which means some of your peers may be ethically challenged. They’re your organizational rivals, too, and with organizational rivals promotions are a win/lose proposition, budget fights are a win/lose proposition, and staffing contests are a win/lose proposition too.
Imagine one of your rivals tries to mislead you, perhaps encouraging a foolhardy risk. Is trust your best course of action?
Not if you want your career to advance. Not if you want your department to get enough funding to succeed next year. Not if you want to hire enough staff to get the job done, either.
Never mind selfish considerations. Your staff counts on you to get them promotions, resources, and quality team members. You aren’t paid for your charming naivete, any more than were the dear, departed leaders of WordPerfect and Lotus.
Microsoft won in a fair fight, with fair defined by what’s allowed in the world of commerce. It won by being smarter than its competitors.
You have to adhere to your own sense of ethics. Your rivals don’t, though, and assuming they do doesn’t make you honorable. It makes you lose.