Microsoft Becoming Productivity-centric May Miss the Mark

By Peter Bernstein November 11, 2014

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is on a roll. He recently hosted a very select group of tech writers in Redmond to better articulate the company’s focus, which was followed up with a session in the U.K., and by a blog post from Microsoft Communications VP Frank Shaw.

For those who may have missed where the Redmond giant is planting the flag, it is around the word “productivity.”  As the company’s owned website reported via a piece from TechCrunch , the new mantra at Microsoft is “Get stuff done.” And, they quote Nadalla as saying that productivity can be distilled down to meaning: “It’s really about the empowerment that I get when I use this technology to go get stuff done.”

While I understand the gist of this focus, there is something about it that is troublesome.

I have mentioned several times in previous postings my fascination many years ago by organizational leadership and sustainability guru Peter Senge of MIT. The good professor in his seminal work on how organizations become learning ones where innovation can drive success said the formula was actually simple to understand but hard to execute.  The way organizations continuous learn and hence succeed is by knowing really well the things they know, knowing the things they know they don’t know and by being exposed to the things they don’t know they don’t know. 

This is where that focus on productivity becomes problematic. If my organization, or me as an individual have our heads’ down on being more efficient and effective, we miss the opportunity to be disruptive. In short, we don’t have the time to be creative and reflective. We don’t have the time to learn from the things we know we don’t know and place them in a context for improvement or the time to be exposed to the things we did not know even existed. 

In my view this leads to instrumentalism, which in an age of to disruptors goes the spoils is not empowering. For that matter, it is not terribly enlightening and could serve as a damper on innovation. Given the challenges that Nadalla inherited when he was elevated to Microsoft CEO, it also seems counter-intuitive that this would be his message. However, it really is and that is where the Shaw blog explains it in more detail. 

The infogaphic on the blog lays it out.

Source: Microsoft (click to enlarge)

And, as Shaw notes, “Words matter.” I will not spoil the rest of what Shaw has to say since it is worth a read.  However, here is one pullout to contemplate:

That’s why we’re not just in the “productivity business.” We’re in the business of helping people be more productive.

You also should not miss his list of rethinking our tools and how they need to change:

  • We need to move away from tools that require us to learn how they work, to natural tools that learn to work the way we do
  • We need to move from tools focused on our individual abilities to tools that empower social productivity
  • We need to move from tools that wait for us to act, towards intelligent tools that understand context in order to anticipate and prioritize what matters most
  • We need to move from a world where time and place dictate what we can do to a truly mobile world that revolves around us so that any device can become your device

The list is loaded, as you can see, with things trying to anticipate and prioritize the way we work so that we can run faster and jump higher. The goal is to optimize time, the one resource we cannot make more of. It is not therefore focus on empowering us to explore and learn. Social is not about social except in the context of productivity.

I was kind of hoping that aside from the bone thrown to business customers that there might have been a bit of elucidation about using technology, particularly software, to be more aware of the world around us and more engaged with each other and fresh perspectives that cause us to want to change things and our lives for the better.

I guess that would be asking too much. I await the next redefinition of Microsoft’s focus, although I am not holding my breath.  

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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