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September 19, 2008

Vision Statements on the Decline

Microsoft apparently has a new vision statement: "create seamless experiences that combine the power of the internet with the magic of software across a world of devices". I know this is true because I read it in the P-I--or anyway I read almost all of it there--evidently there is a bit of debate over the adjectives that modify the word "experiences"--some combination of "compelling" and "seamless" is generally used.

The only problem I have with this vision statement is that I don't like it at all...other than that it's fine.

Our initial vision statement was "A personal computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software" (or words to that effect). Now that is a great vision statement, so good it's used (in a slightly varied form) on a website about writing vision statements, which describes them as "A vision statement is a vivid idealized description of a desired outcome that inspires, energizes and helps you create a mental picture of your target." It was certainly visionary in that you had to assume anybody who could really picture such a future back in 1978 or whatever was tripping on acid. Also, it set the focus for what Microsoft did for a long time--we had to go after both business and consumer users, and make the software so compelling that everybody needed it. Which we somewhat amazingly did.

At some point we updated our vision statement to be "Empower people through great software anytime, anyplace, and on any device." This is a weaker vision because it is more subjective. It doesn't really explain what "empower" means, and it's hard to know when you've reached it. I mean, there either is a computer on every desk or there isn't, but how do you know when people are sufficiently empowered? And when is your software "great"? Plus it describes more of a behavior then a result. Still if you throw out the chaff you are left with the "any device" part, which is arguably redundant with the "anytime, anyplace" part, and a bit broad, but does convey the essence of the vision udpate, which is "old vision + mobile = new vision". I would have preferred "A computer on every desk, in every home, and in every pocket running Microsoft software", but it more or less (with more less than more) told us what to do.

Now we have this godawful concoction about experiences, be they compelling, seamless, or plain vanilla. It suffers all the flaws of the second vision, in that it is too vague and subjective, and it also throws in some buzzwords for good measure. If you dip your WTF-sized strainer in this bubbling cauldron of muck, what emerges is "create seamless experiences". What is THAT supposed to mean? Here's a seamless experience I just had--I put an SD card in my Vista machine to try to upload them to a website, and it completely failed to do anything at all. It did so very seamlessly, I might add. Furthermore, I was completely unable to figure out how to make it recognize the thing (a scenario which had worked the day before), so it really was a case of a sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic (and also being indistinguishable from a kick in the crotch, which may have been the forgotten coda to Arthur C. Clarke's famous quote). It was also a compelling experience, in that I briefly felt compelled to toss my computer out the window. So I was batting 1.000 on the vision, but I didn't feel so hot about it. With this to guide us, our vision might get replaced with a future that looks like "a computer in every dumpster and a pissed-off user in every house, cursing Microsoft software".

So what do I think the vision statement should be? I like something that describes how often somebody interacts with Microsoft software. If we make the time frame short enough, we will have to cover all devices, because the person has to be within reach of a Microsoft device that often. Of course it has to involve the Internet, no duh.

So let's start with a vision statement like "Every person on earth will have an interaction with Microsoft software every TIME-PERIOD." I thought of throwing in an adjective to describe the experience, but that's not necessary; just as the notion of a computer on every desk and in every home implied that the computers must be earning their keep by doing something useful, we'll assume that if people keep having these interactions, it's because they are good ones. Therefore all that remains is to define TIME-PERIOD. Let's be bold here. Joe Dorkface in the video I linked to below seemed to be having an interaction about every ten minutes, so we need to go lower than that. Pondering the "world of devices" (computer/car/phone/watch/toaster/clothing/food/shelter/etc), I think one minute is a pretty good vision. Dude, have you ever REALLY looked at your hands? I can hear the color orange! OK, perfect.

"Every person on earth will have an interaction with Microsoft software every minute." There you have it. Now go make it happen.

Posted by AdamBa at September 19, 2008 08:50 PM


Universal present tense is better:

Everyone on the planet has a compelling interaction with Microsoft software every minute.

Posted by: mitch at September 20, 2008 10:39 AM

I agree, that does sound better. I still vote to nix the word "compelling" though.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at September 20, 2008 03:18 PM

This new slogan is just evil.

See, the old one was about giving something to the world. Having one PC on every desk. And then implying that this would be made possible because of MS software.

Now, what do your new vision say? Nothing. Nag me and annoy me every minute. What do the people earn from "interacting" with MS software? MS getting more money?
Thanks, but no thanks.

What does the new official vision say?
Install IE on all devices. Big deal.

If you want new vision, first think how you can make the world a better place. Then see how you can make life of a person easier by the software you create. (this sounds like apple's vision;)
It doesn't have to be something big. And it shouldn't be something you can achieve in few months.

e.g. the ad inspired me to:
"Control your own life. Put all the knowledge under your fingertips. Never miss a moment. Never loose a memory. Our software can make this true".

(well I guess the above vision would fit perfectly to google, they are almost there ;)

Posted by: Ivan at September 20, 2008 06:33 PM

Making software you love to use.

The every minute thing is creepy and and it's probably true anyway. That covers devices, and online services. No need to mention it. :-)

Posted by: Visionary at September 22, 2008 06:53 PM

Correction: As Ben Romano, the author, politely pointed out to me, the article I linked to was in the Seattle Times, not the P-I. The Obama-endorsing Seattle Times!

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at September 23, 2008 11:32 PM

I agree with Ivan, the every minute thing is creepy, it conjures up all kinds negative connotations. Even when I'm not sleeping there are minutes when I definitely do not want an interaction with a software product of any kind.

I think the biggest issue Microsoft has is that you guys just got too big to be able to write a meaningful vision statement. It has to cover everything from desktop OS and apps through embedded devices and back end stuff like relational databases all the way to services delivered over the web.

That latest vision statement is interesting to parse though. The seamless part says that Microsoft understands, at least to some degree, that what people want is a complete functioning system. They don't care that it consists of hardware, firmware, drivers and software all created by different companies, they just want it to work. Apple and Google have always understood that and take a systems level approach with all their products.

Unfortunately the magic of software bit says to me that Microsoft still doggedly thinks that the only important part of that system is the software which pretty much neuters the seamless aspect so I'm left with the impression that it's business as usual.

The final internet and devices part says to me that Microsoft is still smarting at its early misjudgment of the internet and that it ain't intending to do the same with smartphones.

It'll be interesting going forward to see whether Microsoft will be able to, or even want to, make the move to becoming a systems company.

Posted by: Andrew at September 24, 2008 10:30 AM

I agree the software all the time aspect can seem creepy. But I think that is because people have a negative feeling about Microsoft already. I think if people had felt that way about Microsoft back when the first "every desk/home" vision came through, they would also be creeped out, along the lines of "What? A Microsoft computer is going to be staring at me in my home AND my office?" But of course it's not like that.

If people had resistance for reasons like that, then that would make achieving the vision harder, so we would have to work harder.

- adam

Posted by: Adam Barr at September 26, 2008 06:10 AM

Good post -- Vision statements are great -- but the product living up to them is what really counts... http://kenmo.wordpress.com/2008/09/27/when-designing-software-the-little-things-matter-a-lot/

Posted by: Ken Moss at September 27, 2008 03:02 PM

There is one aspect of the original vision statement you are still missing. It was undeniably valuable. Realizing the vision required creating value. That is true of Google's vision statement today. Your concrete statement is better than the current ones, but not as good the original or Google's.

Posted by: Steve Steiner at September 27, 2008 04:13 PM

The computer everywhere vision statement isn't creepy because it's passive however the interaction every minute is creepy because it implies a loss of control and privacy over even the most intimate moments of my life.

Posted by: Andrew at September 29, 2008 01:26 PM