The Changemaster got Changed

Today’s revelation that Ray Ozzie is leaving Microsoft comes as no surprise. I briefly met Ray in April of 2007 and wrote about that encounter here. I then saw him a year and a half later at the Web 2.0 Summit and wrote about the radically different Ray here. The second time it was as though he was somehow channeling a Microsoft entity and had shifted into “corporate speak mode” in a major (and not good) way. I was instantly turned off. The question I had then was: Will Ozzie change Microsoft…or will Microsoft change him?

Ray got changed.

Though he undoubtedly led many great initiatives at Microsoft, to the world of us outside of the company he was, for the most part, invisible. People I’ve talked to at Microsoft often discuss the factions and turf battles that are endemic to the Microsoft culture and questioned whether he could hope to fill the shoes of what many people at Microsoft have termed “the soul of the company”, Bill Gates.

I suspect he wasn’t able to do things big enough or fast enough within the confines of a culture that doesn’t seem all that innovation-friendly (for a company that spends billions a year on R&D…they seem to have little to show for it besides a few flipper-flappers and dweebezaarbs in the latest version of Office).

About 20 years ago I read a book by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, called The Change Masters which might give us some insight in to the challenges Ray faced with Microsoft culture. In it she discussed how, “Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me.” She says on her blog, “I coined this truth in my book which compared innovation-friendly and innovation-stifling corporate cultures, and then saw it in operation in personal relationships, too. Resistance is always greatest when change is inflicted on people without their involvement, making the change effort feel oppressive or constraining. If it is possible to tie change to things people already want, and give them a chance to act on their own goals and aspirations, then it is met with more enthusiasm and commitment. In fact, they then seek innovation on their own.

I suspect Ray was challenged to completely shift the Microsoft culture away from one where the desktop OS is at the center of the universe to one where the internet, and most specifically cloud computing, most certainly is. Though it’s easy to see that fact outside the company, that’s the sort of change Microsoft people really don’t want and so the resistance to Ray and his initiatives must’ve been enormous.

CEO Steve Ballmer wrote this email to employees about Ray’s departure which certainly seems like he’s admitting “the cloud” is tangential to, “bringing the great innovations and great innovators he’s assembled into the groups driving our business.” Looks like it’s more business as usual at Microsoft…

….and why every developer I talk to, conference I attend and hot tech news article I read NEVER mentions Microsoft anymore, unless they’re discussing how irrelevant the company is in today’s cloud-centric world.  If I were Ray, I’d be delighted to be getting the hell out of there.

2 Comments

  1. Tweets that mention The Changemaster got Changed -- Topsy.com on October 18, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gregg Morris, Steve Borsch. Steve Borsch said: New post: The Changemaster got Changed http://bit.ly/at7h3E […]



  2. Mark on October 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    The Ray you saw the second time is the real Ray. He is a company stiff with no real vision. He didn’t inspire or lead anyone in 5 years. No one will notice when he finally leaves.



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