You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Microsoft’ tag.


Disruption – It’s Personal!

 By Shlomo Maital


   In the musical Hair, there is a song, The Age of Aquarius.   Today, we might sing, The Age of Disruption. Technology is disrupting virtually everything – and everyone needs to be keenly aware of how to live under continual disruption.

     A short and very partial list: Amazon disrupted bookstores, then all retail stores; Tesla’s electric vehicles disrupts GM, Ford and big dinosaur car firms; Blockbuster disrupted movies by renting DVD’s, then Netflix disrupted (bankrupted) Blockbuster by mailing DVD’s, then disrupted cable and networks with streamed creative content; Uber disrupts taxis, Coursera, EdX etc. disrupt traditional colleges, Sprite and Verizon disrupted copper phone lines, Skype disrupted phone companies, Facebook and Google disrupted advertising, especially print and TV, Internet disrupts everything, especially print magazines and newspapers.. and AI disrupts all routine tasks (e.g. airport check in, without seeing a human being before security).

Notice — virtually always, it’s small upstarts that disrupt the big giants — dinosaurs too slow and too dumb to innovate.  Often though they use their size and muscle to catch up.  Microsoft seems to have caught up to Amazon in Cloud services, despite being way way behind at first.

     It’s a good news/bad news joke. The good news is, all this disruption does create value for people, otherwise it would not be disruptive. The bad news is, disruption ruins big dinosaur companies who are also big employers. So far, however, these massive shifts (e.g. from assembly lines manned by human hands to ones without any at all) seem to create lots of jobs while destroying many – but that’s little comfort if your own personal skill suddenly becomes valueless.

     Disruption is highly personal. Be prepared to be disrupted. It will happen to everyone. Think about how, why and when. Think about what to do to prepare. Think about your personal skills and passions that fulfill two conditions: You love doing them, and are good at it; and they create value for many people, in ways that machines and algorithms cannot.

     As an educator, I feel disrupted because young people today can learn things on their own that I used to teach them. Solution: Embrace the disruption and try hard to partner with it, so that a human element is needed and creates value.

     How are you being disrupted? And how are you adapting?

Can You Focus On This – for 8 Seconds?

 attention span

By Shlomo Maital

   Technology is changed and adapted by human thought. But the process is circular — technology also changes human thought and behavior.   For instance, the rapid-fire images of MTV music videos, which change several times a second, caught on with young people. Same with smartphones – texting, without verbs and nouns, with emojis. Instant. Fast.

     A study of Canadian media consumption by Microsoft, quoted in Timothy Egan’s New York Times Op-Ed (Jan 23-24/2016) found that the average attention span (“the amount of concentrated time on a task without becoming distracted) has declined from 12 seconds in the year 2000, to 8 seconds in 2015. “We now have a shorter attention span than goldfish”, Egan quotes the study.

   Here at my university Technion, Sarah Katzir, who interacts with students daily, recently spoke about this ever-shorter attention span as a major problem for university instructors. Students simply are not able to stay focused for an entire 50 – minute class. And when instructors ban their use of smartphones in class, there is an outcry heard throughout my country.

     “Our devices have rewired our brains,” Egan notes. “The trash flows, unfiltered, along with the relevant stuff, in an eternal stream. And the last hit of dopamine only accelerates the need for another one.”   In other words – our ever-shorter attention spans are actually a kind of addiction, a need for a shot of ‘dopamine’ at ever-shorter intervals, from some new stimulus.

     Antidotes?  Egan has two. First, gardening. “Working the ground, there is no instant gratification”. Planting, he notes, forces you to think in half-year increments, at least. Second, deep reading. Curl up with an 800-page tome. Try, Gibbon’s history of the Roman empire. Will Durant’s history of the world. Or, Egan’s choice, William Manchester’s massive biography of Winston Churchill.   Each of us can fight that short attention span, and at the least, become as focused as… goldfish.

How to be an Evangelist:

From Guy Kawasaki

By Shlomo   Maital  

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki is the legendary marketing guru for the Macintosh computer.  Apple hired him, even though he was in the jewellery business at the time, had a psychology degree from Stanford, and knew next to nothing about personal computers. 

  Why did Apple hire him?  Because – he believed.  He felt that MS-DOS, and Microsoft in general,  were “crimes against humanity”.   He felt that “Bill Gates brought darkness to the world.”  He set out “to right a wrong”.    He was in his words – an evangelist. 

    The Greek roots of the word evangelist mean “one who brings or proclaims good news”.  The word has come to mean someone who preaches the Christian gospels. 

    Kawasaki became a VC (, and how is Chief Evangelist for Canva, a startup whose mission is to democratize design.  In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Kawasaki sets out the rules for becoming an evangelist.  Here they are:

  1. Schmooz. Build social connections. It’s easier to evangelize people you know.
  2. Get out of your cubicle. Network. Talk to people.
  3. Ask questions. Initiate a conversation, then – shut up and listen.
  4. Follow up. Make sure that you follow up on a meeting, within a day.
  5. E-mail effectively: Optimize your subject lines, and shorten your text. Always respond quickly.
  6. Make it easy to get in touch.
  7. Do favors. If you do things for others, they are more receptive to listen to you.
  8. Public speaking: An evangelist must master the art of public speaking.  Kawasaki says it took him 20 years to master the art and get comfortable. 
  9. Deliver quality content. 80% of the battle is having something worthwhile, interesting, perhaps novel,  certainly meaningful, to say.  It is NOT just about how you say it, but what you say. 
  10. Omit the sales pitch. If people think you are pitching, you’re dead. Don’t.
  11. Customize. Use the first few minutes to directly address the audience, show them you’ve done your homework, know who they are and what they seek.
  12. Focus on entertaining. If people are entertained, they are more receptive to the information you bring.
  13. Tell stories. Make it personal. Tell stories about yourself and others, that support your message.
  14. Circulate in the audience beforehand. Make contact with them, especially with those in the front rows.
  15. Control what you can. Try to speak at the beginning of an event; choose a small room, if you can. A packed room is better than a half-empty one.
  16. Practice. You need to give  a speech 20 times to get good at it.


Rules for Social Media:

  1. Offer value. Share good stuff – of four kinds:   information, analysis, assistance, entertainment.
  2. Be interesting.
  3. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to take strong stands, express feelings.
  4. Keep it brief.
  5. Be a mensch.
  6. Add drama.
  7. Tempt with headlines. How to…   top 10, etc.
  8. Use hashtags.
  9. Stay active: 3-20 different posts a day. 

  “Evangelism is not about self-promotion. It’s aobut sharing the best of what you, your team and your organization produce with others who can benefit. “

Qubits: How to be in two places at the same time

By Shlomo Maital

  quantum computing 

Today’s New York Times has this headline, “Microsoft bets on quantum computing” by John Markoff (p. 21).   Here is the basic idea, as described by Markoff:

    “Conventional computing is based on a bit that can be either a 1 or a 0, representing a single value in a computation. But quantum computing is based on qubits, which simultaneously represent both zero and one values. If they are placed in an “entangled” state — physically separated but acting as though they are connected — with many other qubits, they can represent a vast number of values simultaneously.    And the existing limitations of computing power are thrown out the window.”

  Amazing?  indeed.   The visionary physicist Richard Feynman first proposed quantum computing in 1982.  Initial research was funded by DARPA (America’s defense department) and America’s National Security Agency.  Note how often governments fund pioneering basic research that later changes the world!

    Microsoft’s visionary research is highly risky, simply because “the typic of exotic..particle needed to generate qubits has not been definitely proved to exist”.  

     Wow..   Go Microsoft!  After decades of missing every trend and opportunity, including the Internet,  Microsoft is now working on something that does not even exist (for sure).  What a change!

     But here’s the best news, especially for busy women.  One day, you can be in two places at once.  You can drive the kids to soccer, while you’re 600 miles away pitching to a potential new client.  You can spend quality time with your spouse, while writing up a new ad campaign for Unilever.  

     On second thought, this is no breakthrough – I know many women, including my wife,  who are already qubits.  They multi-task so easily, so fluidly, that they don’t even need qubits.  I urge Microsoft researchers to study these multi-tasking women.  If they do, they will quickly find those elusive quantum particles; women have tons of them.

        It’s us MEN who need them.    

Obama – Bring the Money Home!

By Shlomo  Maital    

       money abroad

Two reports in today’s Bloomberg Business Week and  Global New York Times are closely connected.

 Floyd Norris reports that after six years of economic crisis and stagnation, the level of employment in the U.S.  has at least returned to its level in 2008. 

  And Bloomberg reports that American businesses, which recovered far far faster than us ordinary working people, have piled up nearly 2 trillion dollars (!) in retained profits abroad, which they choose not to repatriate and bring home to America, in order to avoid the 35 per cent corporate income tax. 

   General Electric alone has $110 b. locked up abroad; Microsoft, 76.4 b.; Pfizer, $69 billion; Merck $57 billion;    and Appel $54 billion.   Overall,  only 22 big companies hold half of the ‘locked earnings’ abroad, or $984 billion. 

   In the past, economic recoveries occur when businesses start investing again, in capital formation, using their retained earnings.  But this cannot happen in America when businesses are sitting on their money abroad. 

   It’s not as if America doesn’t need investment. It needs infrastructure, new airports, fast trains (Amtrak’s ‘fast’ Boston to Washington train is a disgrace, compared to Japan’s and France’s bullet trains), new roads, new bridges, new schools, new factories…in short, everything. 

   So President Obama —  why not declare an amnesty?  Tell the giant businesses, if you  bring your money home and use it – or even just bring it home, and make it available in capital markets for OTHERS to use it —  we’ll offer you an Irish rate of tax, about 12 per cent, rather than the American one, 35 per cent.   Do it because it makes good business sense, and besides, your country needs it – and it is your country that gave you the innovation and creativity that made you the profits in the first place. 

      It’s pretty likely the Republicans, who are pro-business, will support such an amnesty.  And President Obama —  after your dismal performance for six years, this may be your last chance to actually do something creative and productive.    Do something for America’s workers.  Renewed investment will create jobs more than anything.  Until America’s businesses stop sitting on their piles of money abroad and start using it at home, employment cannot recover strongly.

Microsoft’s New CEO:  Asking the Right Questions

By Shlomo  Maital       


Satya Nadella

  Microsoft has a new CEO, to replace veteran CEO Steve Ballmer.  He is Satya Nadella, 47 years of age, born in India, and he has been on the job for 17 days. He’s been with Microsoft for 22 years; previously he worked for Sun Microsystems. He’s a computer engineer. 

   Nadella was interviewed by the New York Times’ Adam Bryant (Feb. 21).  In the past, Microsoft has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.  MS, Gates and Ballmer missed the Internet, smartphones, you name it, they missed it.  Only flexibility and alacrity, the ability to recover, kept Microsoft alive.  Gates was able to mobilize his forces, tell them up front we missed this one, then engage them in catching up. Microsoft is great at catching its foes from behind…usually.

    Nadella’s interview shows he understands what the key questions facing Microsoft are.   And by the way, any large organization, competing in global markets.  Here are some his observations. They are right on the mark. 

      “We (MS) have operated as if we had the formula figured out, and it was all about optimizing. ..Now it is about discovering the new formula.   [What he means here is, MS was great at operational discipline, ‘optimizing’, but now it needs some radical innovation, ‘the new formula’.]  So the question is, how do we take the intellectual capital of the 130,000 people and innovate, where none of the category definitions of the past will matter?   Any organizational structure you have today is irrelevant because no competition or innovation is going to respect those boundaries.”

      Take note, organizational experts.  Don’t waste your time on your company’s organizational structure.  It is irrelevant.  You are being attacked by innovative startups that don’t even have one.

       “Everything now is going to be much more compressed in terms of both cycle times and response times.”    MS is a huge elephant. It has to learn to dance, in Lou Gerstner’s phrase, because its competitors salsa, rather than waltz.

      “You have to be able to sense those early indicators of success, and the leadership has to really lean in and not let things die on the vine.  When you have a $70 b. business something that’s $1 million can feel irrelevant. But that $1 m. business might be the most relevant thing we are doing.”

      He gets it!  MS has ignored important innovations in the past, because they were too tiny to merit attention or managerial time.  But they were the disruptive innovations that changed the world. 

     “What people have to own is an innovation agenda, and everything is shared in terms of the implementation.”

      “One of the things that drives me crazy is …”this is how we used to do it.”  Or….this is how we do it”.   Both are dangerous traps.  The question is: how do you take all of that valuable experience and apply it to the current context and raise standards.”

        Those indeed are the issues, Satya.  Good luck to you.  Now let’s see if you can deliver.   You don’t have a whole lot of time.

When Will They (Microsoft) Ever Learn?

By Shlomo Maital

Microsoft bin Laden     

    To paraphrase Peter, Paul & Mary:   When will Microsoft ever learn?

    To paraphrase Bob Dylan: “ …how many times must Microsoft look up  before it can really see the sky?   Yes, how many ears must Microsoft have  before it can hear people cry?”

    Writing in the Global New York Times, Nick Bilton (“Microsoft finds habits die hard”,  Monday July 29, p. 14) asks,  what if Microsoft made the iPod? 

    Simple. It would be named “The iPod Pro 2005 XP Human Ear Professional Edition with Subscription”.  It would promote 3,495 technical features  and the box would look like a Times Square billboard.   It would achieve maximum marketplace confusion.

    Why?  Because like many high-tech companies, Microsoft is basically run and managed by engineers.  They think like engineers, not like people.  They give us needlessly complex software, they keep piling on feature after feature we don’t need, and they don’t understand the need for simplicity, for beauty, for clean design. 

   When will they learn?   Not for a while.

   Microsoft, Bilton reports, last month took a $900 million write-down (!!) for unsold inventory of its Surface RT tablet, which went on sale just a year ago.

    Why did it fail?  For starters: MS offered two products, the Surface RT and Surface Pro.  One came with a pen.  They had two different screen resolutions and two types of Windows software. Confusing? 

   As the founder of Gdgt website Ryan Block observed, “Windows is a hammer and everything looks like a nail” to Microsoft.

    Some Microsoft products are empathic with consumers, like Windows Phone 7 and Xbox.  But most are not. Why doesn’t giant MS learn from its successful consumer-empathic products, and above all, from its competitors, like Apple and Samsung?

     For those of us who use Office, how many of its features do we really use daily?  One percent?  Or less?

     I urge Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to read John Maeda’s little book, The Laws of Simplicity.  Microsoft breaks every single one.  And despite endless failures, it seems to stubbornly insist on continuing to do so.   Must be part of Microsoft’s DNA.


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital